Talking with racists

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dw_ptbo
Talking with racists

 

dw_ptbo

Yesterday at work I had the displeasure of hearing racist comments from a coworker in regards to the incident at Ipperwash. I reacted calmly but still called the person on the comments, after being initially dismayed someone could say what they did, so nonchalantly.

What do you find is the best way to respond when you hear someone saying something so blatantly racist right in front of you?

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by dw_ptbo:
[b]What do you find is the best way to respond when you hear someone saying something so blatantly racist right in front of you?[/b]

Good question. I find it easier to deal with racism that's directed at me, rather than in front of me, yet not obviously directed at me. I once stood by myself in line at a shop, where the two clerks were loudly sharing a racist aboriginal themed joke. I honestly was so stunned, I did nothing. Similarly, I have overheard co-workers that I otherwise respected share racist FN themed jokes on a few occasions, and have had racially charged confrontations on social occasions with fellow employees. Each time, I have been unable to respond in any fashion other than merely feeling ashamed, weak and foolish.

On the other hand, once when I was wearing more 'FN' themed clothing, and mentioned my visiting a sweat (yes, I know, more fool me) to the major national franchise car rental clerk I was speaking to, I was initially denied the rental, because of 'concerns about theft.' This time, I was able to respond in a clear yet focussed rant, that ended up with me getting my car and an apology.

I look forward to some illuminating responses.

Skinny Dipper

In the past two years, I've encountered the same types of comments from 70 to 85 year old relatives who talked about the "Chinamen, Japs, Towel Heads (Sikhs), Injuns, and Negroes." As for Negroes, at least they progressed from N*****s if you can call that progression. I have heard them debating if the Negroes should be called Blacks or Jamaicans (all people who are black). Usually, "Jamaican" comes up when they see a murder story on the TV news.

I think Barack Obama has had the same problem with his grandmother who has made racist comments. You don't disown the the people who care about you even if they make poor comments. You need to be careful about verbally attacking someone you know. For example, if it's the summer time at someone's cottage party, I may say, "Sorry to hear that," and then use the proper terminology. Or I may excuse myself and go to another part of the cottage property. I don't always have the luxury of leaving because the only way in and out is by boat. I'm usually boating with a few other people.

If someone is making racist comments at you or directed at someone in front of you, do challenge the other person if you feel it is safe to do so. Remember, the situation is already heated. Make it better, not worse.

Skinny Dipper

To dw_ptbo,

I really do need glasses. When you wrote [i]coworker[/i], I thought you meant cow-worker on a farm. When you referred to Ipperwash, I pictured farming country. My moo-stake/moo-steak.

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

quote:


Originally posted by dw_ptbo:
[b]Yesterday at work I had the displeasure of hearing racist comments from a coworker in regards to the incident at Ipperwash. I reacted calmly but still called the person on the comments, after being initially dismayed someone could say what they did, so nonchalantly.

What do you find is the best way to respond when you hear someone saying something so blatantly racist right in front of you?[/b]


Depends on who you are and whether the remarks were directed at you. As a pale skinned Canadian whose family has been here for many generations I use my position to speak out when it happens in my presence. However it is not a character trait that is likely to get you a a 25 year pin with most organizations.

Cueball Cueball's picture

Well, I always try and define my object. When dealing with prejudiced statements I think one should determine wether you want someones mind to be changed, or you want them to shut up.

Often these two objects may be concurrent in a conversation involving a group of people, and so your object might be to "change" someones view, while at the same time get another person to "shut up."

In many cases flippant racism (not to mention sexism and homophobia) is often mostly group think, and people carelessly saying things, or agreeing with things, or joining in racist banter is part of socializing and socialization. Many of these people are perfectly fine except when exposed to an idiot leader type who is using prejudice as a way of "teaming" a group, by denigrating people of another group.

In this situation, if one can identify who the leader is it is simple enough to destroy the process by making an "I smell rotten fish" face that indicates that the leader type is actually on the outside of the social group as opposed to being in a leadership position in the in-group. This often achieves both purposes as the prejudiced "leader" will shut up, and those that are just "going along" will be encouraged to find the better part of themeselves -- most people actually do know better I find.

One thing to avoid is appearing shocked or upset because this is often the object of the prejudiced person themselves, who is fundamentally looking for attention, anyway, and shocking people is the desired reaction.

I have no idea how people of colour should react in such situations, especially if they are not being directly confronted by it, being talked around or laughed at in the third person. That must be very hard, I imagine, since of course the instinctual reaction would be to do things that would likely result in arrest. But from my experience there are many ways that people who are accepted in the dominant cultural group can subvert the process just by overtly not going along.

Bottom line is though, that prejudice should [b]always[/b] be engaged, in one way or another, directly, as you did. So good for you.

[ 06 July 2008: Message edited by: Cueball ]

remind remind's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Skinny Dipper:
[b]In the past two years, I've encountered the same types of comments...[/b]

Why only the last 2 years?

Living in north central BC, you cannot believe the comments I hear, daily. They are incideous mini murders of self-esteem for the Metis in this community and have been for generations.

quote:

[b]You don't disown the the people who care about you even if they make poor comments.[/b]

No actually, IMV you do, I have throwen my nephew and his wife out of my house for making racist comments about FN Peoples, they even thought they could make the rider my daughter and her father are exceptions to the rule, and it would acceptable. My nephew won't even acknowledge his Souix ancestory, on his father's side, though neither does his father overtly.

quote:

[b] You need to be careful about verbally attacking someone you know. [/b]

Why? Given your scenario below, I would not even go.

quote:

For example, if it's the summer time at someone's cottage party, I may say, "Sorry to hear that," and then use the proper terminology. Or I may excuse myself and go to another part of the cottage property. I don't always have the luxury of leaving because the only way in and out is by boat. I'm usually boating with a few other people.

quote:

[b]If someone is making racist comments at you or directed at someone in front of you, do challenge the other person if you feel it is safe to do so. Remember, the situation is already heated. Make it better, not worse.[/b]

How about you give some examples of what you believe would make it better? As well as detailing better for whom, or do you strictly mean regarding self? And what do you mean by better?

[ 06 July 2008: Message edited by: remind ]

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Skinny Dipper:
[b]You don't disown the the people who care about you even if they make poor comments.[/b]

Good point. One grandmother of mine was an open racist, so I got to listen to boring racist diatribes long before i knew it was a 'bad' thing. The first picture book she gave me was 'Little Black Sambo.' Rather pathetic, really. Ok, I'll really shutup now, really.

Michelle

Something similar happened to me recently. It was relatively innocuous, actually, but still, I was tongue-tied about it because there were a lot of other dynamics involved. I agree with Skinny Dipper - I'd have a pretty lonely and much less rich existence if I disowned all of the family members I have who said something racist or made racist jokes or whatever.

Anyhow, the recent situation was that a couple of children in my extended family were singing a song about "Chinese men". The song didn't say anything derogatory about Chinese men, it was just sort of demeaning - they do a dance and say "We're Chinese men men men men men," and repeat ad nauseum. I was struck kind of speechless. First of all, they weren't my kids (my kid would know better than to sing something like that, at least in front of me!) and one of the other adults who was more closely related to them than I was was laughing at their antics and telling them, "You two are silly!" in an "aren't they cute" kind of way. And all the other adults milling about didn't seem to think there was anything weird about them singing this either. (Very small, very white town.)

Anyhow, so there I stood, tongue-tied and wondering what to say as they went around the yard singing this song and doing the dance for anyone who would listen, along with another song and dance that was cute and not offensive at all.

Then they went up to another of their closer relatives and sang this song. This guy has never struck me as any more progressive than anyone else among them, and I've heard some pretty homophobic/transphobic stuff from most of the folks there including him. (And to be clear, these are really great folks otherwise - salt of the earth, friendly, outgoing, etc.)

But when these little kids sang this song for him, he said, to my utter surprise, "I don't like that one very much. Let's hear the other one." The girls, not understanding, started singing it for him again, perhaps thinking he'd like it if they performed it better. So, more firmly, he said, "No...I said I don't like that one. I don't like it. Let's hear the other one."

Now, this guy didn't say, "That song is racist." Maybe he might not even have agreed if someone else said it was - maybe that would be going "too far" for him. But he recognized it was offensive and spoke up.

And it was much more effective than having their lefty relative from To-RON-to say it. The girls stopped singing the song altogether and focused on their other, cuter, fun song.

I'm pretty sure there's a lesson in there, although I'm not quite sure what it is yet.

[ 06 July 2008: Message edited by: Michelle ]

Cueball Cueball's picture

I like that story.

Seddig

Last weekend I was at the Bay in a women’s change room a Black woman with British accent had entered a change room which was being used by another woman of colour (with middle Eastern accent, I think). When the black woman was informed that the room was in use by this woman and she should leave the room the black woman started making racist comments toward the other woman of colour.

I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. If it was white person saying these things to a person of colour (I think ) I would have called the manager and stood up to the racist person but in this case I really didn’t know what to say and beside I was afraid I would be subject of racist comments by this woman too. Cases like this are so sad, really really sad. A person of colour making racist comments to another person of colour.

I think it is much harder for people of colour and Aboriginal Peoples to respond to racist comments. Trying to stand up to a racist person may make you subject of racism too.

Makwa Makwa's picture

Ooh, ooh - one more anecdotal thingy. I used to go to a certain clinic on a regular bases, and some guy was lecturing his grrl companion on the evils of 'Indians' and their ways, especially the wicked things they do with their pipes, etc. After he exited the waiting room to see the Dr. I spoke to her, and politely (yes, I can be polite) told her that that view was offensive because the cheyopa is sacred, etc. etc. We were smiles and nods and such, and I was proud of myself on how well that went. Well, some number of weeks later, I'm back at the clinic, and there she is expounding to another friend how some wild native guy got all up in her face and abusive and swore at her and all. So then I did get up in her face and reminded her I was that guy (she hadn't seen me) and that I hadn't been abusive but that she deserved that and more .... etc. Although, later I wasn't all that proud of myself because I considered that had she instead been some hefty skinhead looking type guy, I would have prolly sought the better part of valour and simply scurried away. So I still don't have a clue what to do.

remind remind's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Seddig:
[b]I think it is much harder for people of colour and Aboriginal Peoples to respond to racist comments.[/b]

Here, I have observed many Metis making disparaging comments about their heritage, before others get a chance to it seems. I have a very hard time with it, but bite my tongue at that moment, and try to work in positive FN commentary later on in the dialogue. If my partner is there, he usually gently makes a positive comment about FN's heritages and/or in history, in response to such comments, and negates what was said. Since he has started doing this, there are less "self-loathing" comments being bandied about.

quote:

[b]Trying to stand up to a racist person may make you subject of racism too.[/b]

yes, and of hate, but I personally feel it is worth it to challenge others racism.

Slumberjack

I reacted very badly in one particular incident, and although I was rather proud of myself for having done so at the time, subsequent readings and information, including some snippets here on babble in this forum, caused me to reconsider what I did and see it for what it was.

After a long and arduous week, a few co-workers and I stopped in at a local watering hole for a few cold ones. While we gathered there, another gentleman joined us who knew someone in our group. On one of the overhead TVs, the news told of yet another suicide bombing in the middle east, which the gentleman observed and announced to us all that they should just nuke all of those smarmy fking ragheads. With visions of my middle eastern spouse and children in my mind, anger welled up and overcame common sense. I leaned back in the chair, with my hands resting behind my head, and matter of fact announced that I did not like the gentleman, and that he should find somewhere else to sit. He replied that his intention was not to do so, whereby I stood up, walked over to his seat, and cocked my fist back, announcing my intent to take his head off at the count of five, if he did not move his ass somewhere else. Reluctantly, he moved, cursing and calling me an A hole as he left with his beverage.

Although it wasn't apparent at the time, I came to understand that similar acts of cowboy like demeanor and our traditional propensity toward violence as a way to dominate others has been, and continues to be one of the root causes of racism, so in fact what I did was not at all a reaction to a racist situation, but a continuance of that mindset of violence in another guise.

We have to un-learn this way of ours if there is to be any chance for real progress. A more effective evolutionary process is when people who are prone to racist comments are offered words of displeasure, and education, instead of violence.

ElizaQ ElizaQ's picture

Wow talk about timing for a thread. Just today I attended and outdoor concert event, beautiful sunny, fun atmosphere etc etc. We happened to be attending with friends one of which who was very obviously FN's. So we're sitting in our lawn chairs and when our friends were off getting food or something an older couple came and sat down right behind me. Then our friends came back and sat back down a few chairs down so I'm guessing it may not have been obvious to the couple behind that they were with me.
So I'm totally enjoying the music and relaxing atmosphere and catch the sound of the couple chatting behind me through the strains of the music. Holy heck I thought are they really talking about what I think they're talking about? Yep yep...it was a chat about drunk 'Indians' Then to make things even worse the woman happens talks about a story that a friend told her about the very area that our friends happen to be from...namely some crap about 'well on the weekends she said they all go in on the weekends, even Sunday and drink drink drink'
I sat there for a minute and didn't know what to do...do I let it go? If I say something will it cause a scene...right in the middle of the event? At that point I realized that our friends couldn't hear this...but I could and yes i was very upset. I decided I had to do something and I'll be totally honest I was freaked out. I have confronted racism before but never in a situation like that. I also did feel pretty freaked by the fact that they were a couple of seniors and did feel bad, I think the whole respect your elders thing was at play for me....the way they were talking about wasn't in an air of being angry or with animosity it was for them just light chit chat. Just clueless.

So I got up and told the person beside me I was going to the bathroom took a few steps back and kneeled down as if I was adjusting the buckle on my sandle right in front of the couple. I gave them a friendly smile and said as calmly and quietly as I could, 'I'm not wishing to cause a scene but I want you to know that I can hear what your are talking about and you happening to be disparaging people who are friends of mine and it is very offensive and horrible stereotyping." The couple was so shocked I think that they just stared and didn't say anything. I then added a quick, 'It's interesting that we're sitting in front of a beer tent where hundreds of white people are out drinking like crazy on a Sunday and I do wonder how many white people are also in the three bars down the street as we speak and are there every single week for that matter.
Have a nice day, the music is wonderful isn't it.'

Then I got up and just walked away without even waiting for a reaction and shook it off when I got out of sight. I'll admit it was very difficult for me to do something like that in public and in a place like that. Did I say enough? Did I get the point across? Should I just have said 'your being racist shut up?' in a more angry way? I dunno. It felt like the right thing to say at the time, it just came out that way. When I opened my mouth initially I didn't know what exactly I was going to say.
I'll admit I was nervous going back because I wasn't sure if they'd react then and we'd get into a 'thing.' They were gone though so I guess at least I made them feel uncomfortable.

I didn't tell anyone else I was with what had happened. I debated about that for a bit but decided that we were all having such a great time why bring up a dark thing like that. It was over and the problem was gone and at least I could feel good enough that whether they 'got it' or not that they were told it was offensive and would likely at least talk about it after the fact.

martin dufresne

Bravo.

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Nicely done ElizaQ.

Michelle

I think you handled it just right, ElizaQ. The fact that you were pleasant about it and brought up the fact that white people were drinking right here and in the bars surrounding will probably make them think, a lot more than if you'd displayed anger and made a scene. Very well done.

dw_ptbo

I really liked that story Eliza. I will keep your story in mind the next time I hear comments I don't know how to react to.

Most of the disparaging comments I hear towards FN people regard to recent roadblocks and taxation issues, to which I don't feel totally confident addressing as a white person, however today yet another coworker made a remark about both of these issues and I countered it by explaining how a couple of hundred years of broken promises tend to result in things like roadblocks, and how anyone who leaves the reserve is subject to taxation.