This week has resulted in my being startled by very vocal, racist remarks. On Monday, a very dear friend of mine was the victim of such vocal racism. While riding in an elevator with an older woman and a young girl, my friend was called a “gook.” This term was not used in anger against my friend, but was sharp and jarring none-the-less. The older lady in the elevator turned to the young girl and matter of fact-ly stated (while pointing at my friend), “That is a gook.” Out of shock, my friend did not respond. She told me it was the first time in her life she can recall someone using that term in her presence to reference her directly.
Two days later I was at a gas station filling up my car in San Antonio, Texas. Although I do not live in San Antonio any longer, I was raised in the city and have always found it to be a very welcoming city for minorities, particularly Hispanics as they are a huge portion of the overall population. On the opposite side of the pump from me was a black male. A young Hispanic woman was across from me. The black male went inside the store and when returning to his vehicle called the young Hispanic woman “stupid.” That’s what caught my attention and I looked over in their direction. The woman did not respond and just continued pumping her gas. As the man walked away mumbling at the woman pumping gas, another Hispanic woman yelled to him, “Just leave her alone.” He responded by shouting, “Go back to Mexico.” I was dumbfounded and found myself staring blankly at the Hispanic woman, unable to form words. She then responded, “I could tell you to go back to where you came from too,” or something to that effect. The black man simply repeated himself more loudly, “Go back to Mexico.”
Today, I was listening to NPR and a black man (as he indicated) was discussing immigrants in his town and the jobs they have taken from the residents there. He began his sentence with, “I don’t mean for this comment to sound racist.” At that point, I knew he was about to say something extremely racist. He did not disappoint, “If you’ve ever seen a house overrun with cockroaches…” thus he began, “… watch them come out of the building, there isn’t one white person or black man coming out of that building, they are all Mexicans.” Interestingly, they interviewed one of the workers who was not “Mexican” but “Guatemalan.”
His comment reminded me of a comment I received in my youth from someone I considered to be my best friend. I was going through the coming out process and thought I would gauge his feelings about homosexuals before telling him affirmatively that I was a homosexual. I mentioned gay people and he said, “I don’t like them.” I inquired as to why and he said, “They are like cockroaches, anytime I see one I want to step on them.”
Yes, we’ve come a long way in the battle for civil equality for ALL people, but there are miles and miles to go. We must continue to educate each other that ALL people are human, ALL life is valuable and fragile and our words have power. We must stop teaching our children that Asians are gooks, immigrants and homosexuals are cockroaches and that Americans should “Go back to where they came from.” These are the values we are teaching our children and the values they will teach their children in turn. Unlearning racism is a daunting process, one which I myself struggled with due to my upbringing and continue to try to evolve away from. Somehow, we must overcome this disease.