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This is a diary for me to complain about something that's bothered me for a long time.  I really hate it when white people think I'm "one of them" and they begin to whisper about whatever racist thing they think I need to know.

Let me just say, I'm a middle-aged white guy with a vaguely Midwestern-SoCal accent.  I've had long and short hair, but that doesn't seem to have made much of a difference in this phenomenon I'm describing.  It really seems to me that it's because I'm a white guy.

It doesn't seem to matter where I am either: it could be in Little Rock, Peoria, Bakersfield, or even Long Beach.  I see something that interests me; I ask a local about it, and it turns out there's something special about it that causes the local to start whispering to me.

I think I can only explain this with an example or two.

1. One time when my wife and I were in New Orleans, we were cruising through the Jax Brewery mall.  We struck up a conversation with an elderly white gentleman about the place, and the conversation moved on to something about the place (I forget exactly what), but as the man explained whatever it was I asked about, his voice dropped to a whisper, to the effect of "well it was because when they did this, they hired all black people to do (job x), and then (things went to hell)."  I really can't remember because I was already in my defensive ("how the hell do I get away from here without causing any offense by showing my disgust") mode.  Then, as usual, I just "hmm'd" away his comments, and bade him goodbye.

2. A few years later we were in Farmington, New Mexico.  We had been cruising the state on vacation, and it was a beautiful warm day.  We decided to stop into the bowling ally for a cool drink, assuming (correctly) that it would be cool inside the bar.  I ordered a draft beer.  The woman behind the bar told me they didn't serve draft beer.  For some reason, I had to ask why.  Down came her voice: "Well, it's because the Indians like to drink draft beer, so if we don't serve it, they don't come in."  We drank our drinks and left quickly.

I always feel really uncomfortable in these situations.  Invariably, I'm the outsider who has no idea how the rest of those around think, and I"m frankly not interested in getting into a fight where I'm certain to get my ass kicked (to be fair, that would be just about any fight anyway). Yet, for some reason, it seems to me I get "invited" into this local fraternity of whatever small-mindedness is in fashion, as if whatever I said up to that time convinced them that I was "one of them" and could be trusted with this indispensable information.

The other part that gets to me is that they seem to feel the need to whisper when frankly, I doubt that anyone around would care if they said it out loud.

By the way, I recognize that men do something similar when an attractive woman walks by.

I don't know if I have a particular point to make here, beyond my own discomfort.  I'll bet there are people here who have experienced the same thing, and maybe some of the comments of a community I find quite thoughtful, I will better understand how I feel.

Also, Happy New Year everyone.  I wrote a song about New Years Eve, a (poor) recording of which you can find on YouTube.  Just look for "New Years Eve Again" by greggparadiddle.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This situation is doubly disconcerting. (7+ / 0-)

    Offensive because of what they're saying in the first place, and also because they assume that you think like they do.

    It's odd.  I live in the most liberal of places (San Francisco), but I still watch my political talk unless I know that the person I'm speaking to shares my viewpoint(s).  It's always a surprise to find out that someone from this area is a conservative, but I'd rather not offend them right off the bat if that's the case.  

    My dad, OTOH, finally had enough of the conservatives around him in Ohio - they just assumed that everyone thought the way they did, and spewed offensive shit all day long.  Racist, sexist, homophobic, Christianist tripe; he said it was like living on the set of Fox News.  He moved away a couple years ago and is much happier for it.

    Why do the least tolerant assume that theirs is the default worldview?

  •  I totally get your point. (9+ / 0-)

    I am a "white" Puerto Rican and you would not believe the things I have heard when people think it's just white people talking.   Most of the time I just ignore the comments but sometimes I answer.  It is always fun to see how these racist people react when they hear my accent and realize their mistake.  

    Sometimes I get a "you don't look like a Puerto Rican." To which my response always is "and what does a Puerto Rican look like? Because I look exactly like my father and grandfather."

    One of my proudest moments as a mom happened when I was having dinner with one of my sons before a Savion Glover show.  A woman about my age and her mother were having dinner next to us and somehow they realized we were going to the same show as them.  They asked us if we thought it would be safe, you know with so many Black people.  My white skinned, blue eyed boy, using a voice I had never heard before said:  "I don't know, I am one of them."

  •  Back in the '80's (5+ / 0-)

    ...I met these people who hadda little garage on a corner of their family's trailer park that they had rescued from falling apart and turned it into a clubhouse/pot speakeasy/mancave...

    Nearly everyone who hung out there were a bunch of white skateboard/bmx punx with shaggy hair and flannel shirts and they listened to a lot of Agent Orange, Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath and other music that sounded like a trainwreck...

    The place had a lotta "friend of a friend" types who'd occasionally drop by and drink beer but who weren't actually usual suspects.  One night one of these people proceeded to tell us some disgusting racist joke about Black people, assuming that since we were all white, we'd think it was funny.

    Now, I didn't know these folks all that well at the time, my bicycle-riding  friends introduced me to the place and the people, and imagine my great surprise and approval when the folks there bluntly told the racist joke-teller to go the fuck away from there with that shit!

    Even tho it seems like it sometimes, alla us white people aren't "down" with racist bullshit, even when there aren't  any Black folks around to be offended, we're perfectly capable of being offended ourselves!

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 11:30:54 AM PST

  •  Well, my nephews are bi-racial, and they live in (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SteelerGrrl, greggp, murrayewv

    Texas. I can overhear those whispers when the whole family is out somewhere. Like a bi-racial couple with bi-racial kids is anything new in Texas. I have to admit, when I hear racist crap, I just pull out the pictures in my wallet. It usually causes a great deal of embarrassment, which is the entire point of the exercise.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 12:05:22 PM PST

  •  Ah yes, the whispers. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SteelerGrrl, greggp, murrayewv

    I always smile wryly, tip my head to the side a little, shrug and say, "you know, many people don't agree with what you just said. One of these days, you're going to say it to the wrong person and invite trouble upon yourself and your family that you probably never wanted."

    And I say this with a bright smile, looking them directly in the eye, like I'm giving them the most generous advice in the world.

    Then I walk away.

    Yeah, I might get shot in the back one of these days. I realize that (especially THESE days). But while I totally believe in picking my battles, I also refuse to stand  by  people say bigoted filth in my presence.

    Maybe they're offended. Maybe they're ashamed. But I hope that they'll feel  a little more marginalized and think twice before they spew that crap around a stranger  and I'm pretty certain that they'll reconsider before they do so around an acquaintance/distant relative whose views they don't know.

    We may not be able to change what people think. But we can certainly change how they behave.

    © grover


    So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

    by grover on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 12:36:03 PM PST

  •  Been there too (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greggp, ten canvassers

    I'm a middle-aged white woman, and my first job as a newcomer to NC was as a nurse in a mid-size rural hospital outside Charlotte.  My first jobs were in Philly and Camden, NJ, and this felt like a different planet.  

    As wingnutty as my manager and most co-workers were, the worst were the patients.  It was rare that an inpatient would request white nurses only, but it did happen and most of the time, that's what they got.  

    I was just not ready for the near-daily slurs and double entendres to which I was privy to simply because I'm white, and they assumed I "understood."  It took them about a year to run me off -- once my manager figured out I didn't go to church and wasn't interested in hers, we parted amicably and I moved on to a better job.  The stress was awful, though -- I gained 30 pounds that year drowning my woes in cheese grits and Sundrop.

    One I'll never forget: I was coming on the 7p-7a shift on a cardiac telemetry floor.  Patient was a white lady, early 80's, several days out from surgery and likely pending discharge in the morning.  She was sitting up in bed trying to wrap a scarf around her hair when I walked in and introduced myself.

    She dropped the scarf, reached for my name badge, and asked me to say my (unusual and ethnic) last name again.  When I did, she replied with delight, "Thank God!  I've had nothing but ****s in here for days.  Finally, I got a good Polack nurse!  Can you help me with my hair?"

    It was a loooong night.

     I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine.     -- Kurt Vonnegut

    by SteelerGrrl on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 01:59:33 PM PST

    •  North Carolina story from my Mom (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SteelerGrrl

      now I wish, I wish, I'd talked to her more about this, but when she was following my dad around the country during WWII (they started at college in Oregon, he enlisted, they got married in La Jolla, at some point he was moved to the east coast, possibly the tank school?).

      Anyway, she got a job in a sort of Woolworth's/5-and-Dime, I don't remember, and somehow the local girls were always away from the counter when a black customer came in. Didn't bother Mama. She'd grown up in Hood River, going to school with Japanese kids and Belgians (darn what was that boy's name! his family came over after WWI and the kids would tease him by sticking a carrot in the center of a stocking cap and making like it was a German helmet... he'd get furious and run around the circle, not able to decide who to hit at first. little monsters.) and maybe Indians, Hood is right on the Columbia River. As a matter of fact, I think Mama thought it was funny, herself, the local girls thinking they were getting away with something, foisting people they didn't want to deal with, onto her, who actually wasn't bothered at all.

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 07:20:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  White Jew w/ a small nose in his 40s here... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    murrayewv, greggp

    my black friend in the south once said, "it's ok, you pass" for white.  She was right.  When I would go out of the metro area, I got lots of whispered bile.  More than a few times about dirty, hooked nose Jews.  It appears she was right.  Sad, sad, sad.  

    Mmmmm. Sprinkles. - H.J. Simpson.

    by ten canvassers on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 05:00:44 PM PST

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