Friday, February 15, 2008


And more on avoiding making a scene

I was thinking further about my feeling that I’d have to make some obvious protest, rather than keep silent and show respect, should I meet George Bush. And I thought of a time when I did keep silent on something, and later wished I hadn’t.

It was an entirely different situation, of course.

A friend and I were at a square dance, and had gone to an Indian buffet during the lunch break. It was a particularly hearty and varied spread, and we went beyond overeating. That’s not a good thing when one has to be active physically and mentally for the afternoon, and between two dance sets we sat down and must have looked quite torpid because another dancer came over to us and asked why.

We told her that we’d been to the Indian buffet for lunch. Good food, we said, but too much of it, and we were lethargic from eating too much. “Oh,” she said, “You like Indian food?” We said we did, very much. “I don’t much like Indian food,” she told us. Fair enough; I know several people who don’t. “I don’t much like Indian people, either,” she added.

I’m not sure what made her think she should say that to us. I don’t know why she thought it’d be well received. But I didn’t say anything; I just stood up without another word and walked away.

My friend later said that she explained her dislike as having something to do with Indians “taking jobs” away from other people, presumably “real” Americans, and whatnot. Whatever; it’s the standard xenophobic garbage, and I should have said something. I have no illusion that it would have changed her mind, but what it would have done is let her know that many of us don’t welcome that sort of bigotry.

Since then, when I think about it I wish I had not stayed quiet. And if I encounter something like that again, I’ll handle it differently.


Maggie said...

When I was younger I used to voice my opinion, perhaps too often. And then as I got older, I tempered it. Then I had kids, and decided that there were some things worth saying so that nobody in this world thinks they're anonymous -- it's much easier to be unethical if you think nobody's looking (that idea is from an article in Scientific American Mind, but I don't think it's a huge revelation). And although I'm not in the "tell them to pull their pants up" class, when I feel something is unethical, I speak up. For example, nobody loves me at the local mini-mart, where I am constantly asking if they've carded young-looking people buying cigarettes. It's like jumping into cold water -- it's not easy to do, you have to overcome the feeling that it's none of your business. But I don't want to see young people smoking, and I want the young people to realize that people are paying attention and care and maybe I know your mother, so I say something.

I can't believe that woman shared her prejudice with you, either. It makes you wonder what her peers are like, that she feels comfortable expressing such a racist sentiment to a complete stranger. Amazing. That is the kind of person I used to have no restraint with when I was young. I'm not sure what I would have said, but what leapt to mind when I read your story was, "I don't much like racist people." Ugh. Appalling.

Anonymous said...

With some people, it's just as well to walk away as you did. As you said, whatever your comment back to her would have been, it would not have made a difference. Her biogtry towards the Indian people, food, etc., will never change. What she needed to know is this was not the time or the place to bring up such biogtry. If you had responded to her comment, who knows what other negative feelings towards people, places, food, etc. that would have brought up! Such a person makes me uncomfortable to be around as I am never sure what their reaction with be to anything said or done!

Miss Profe said...

Being intentional when others say ignorant things is hard. It requires so much emotionally, intellectually and physically. But, we have to do it; otherwise, people walk away without having been called out.

As for comfort in expressing racist views: It seems that this has been the trend for some time.

Don't beat yourself up for not responding.