A few days ago, I heard this sentence: "I could say something really racist right now, but I won't."
Let me back up a little bit and explain. I was at a friend's house. There were a few people there. They're all white, I'm mulatto (my mother is black and my father is white). I wanted to go out, because the plan was to go see an 80s cover band at a bar later that night, and I like 80s music. Unfortunately the night started out a little rough for me because I wasn't 100% sure about the people I was going to be with. It wasn't anything sinister, just that I didn't really know most of them.
I need to say that I know these people aren't racists. I know they don't believe that the color of a person's skin can make him any better or worse than someone else. But it seems that for some people it's easy to make offensive jokes when you don't think anybody who hears it will be offended. I heard a few things over the course of the night that I would certainly describe as unnecessary, inappropriate, and disrespectful. But racist? I just don't know. I hope this doesn't sound like I'm defending racism. Maybe I've gotten too used to hearing this kind of thing, but when I compared it to some of the really, truly terrible things I've heard other people say, it was much more discomfiting than hurtful.
I've been in this situation a couple of times in my life, and I've still not figured out how exactly to deal with it. Things start out okay, and then as time goes on, I go from feeling uncomfortable to wanting to lecture to wanting to cry, and then to wanting to start a fight. But I don't lecture, and I don't cry, and I don't fight. After all this time, what hurts me the most is that I don't think there's anything I can do. How can you change the way people think if they don't respect you?
What was a little different about this particular incident was that one sentence. "I could say something really racist right now, but I won't." And then he looked at me. What was I supposed to do? Thank him? Tell him how great he was? That was truly the most confusing thing I'd heard all night. It was as if he was telling me that he knew what racism is, and he knew that there are things he shouldn't say. But if that's true, then why even bring it up in the first place?
I've had groups of white friends before in whose company I could spend extended periods of time without hearing even one offensive comment or joke. I really miss being able to hang out with people without being reminded that I look so different from them. Why does it have to matter what color our skin is?
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