Friday, September 29, 2006

There's a Racist in My Living Room!

Posted by Lynsalyns.

If you'd like to use this space to tell stories/secrets/confessions of your dangerous maternal mind, anonymously or otherwise, send me an e-mail and you too can enjoy the refuge of the Basement...


I moved to the Midwest with the highest hopes. At last, released from the clutches of my family drama! Relieved of the images of my dead father that lingered around every corner! Free to pursue the writing life and immerse myself in a community alive with ideas flowing like a river from the high-profile university two miles from my brand-new tract home.

Alas, it was not to be. This locale has proved interesting, but not exactly as I imagined. Hey, what is? Was turning 21 all you hoped it would be? Did marriage suddenly turn your husband into Martha Stewart in a three-piece suit? How's motherhood treating you? How about those idyllic, lazy mornings breastfeeding in a beautiful negligee while your adoring spouse looks on and snaps award-winning black-and-white art photos?

But honestly, this is a little much even for me.

I was wrangling the baby for a nap when my doorbell rang this week. The woman across the street was standing on my front porch. She and her family just moved into the house right across the street and she took me up on my spur-of-the-moment comment of "stop by any time, I'm home most of the day!"

I invited her in and we proceeded to have a lovely conversation. A freelance writer! You don't say! Me, too! Kids in high school and elementary school. That's a tough move for them. Doesn't this development kind of suck?

That last discussion led to this:

"My son came home from school and said, "Mom, do you know how many white kids are in my class? One, me!" she said, looking distressed. She went on to tell me how she and her husband are requesting a variance from the neighborhood association because a four-foot fence isn't tall enough to protect her grill and patio furniture from "those people." At this she waved her hand in the direction of the apartment complex that borders our development.

Indeed, many of the folks who live there are African-American. They are families and college kids and who knows what else – you know, people who live in apartments. I lived in an apartment 11 months ago.

The apartments gave us momentary pause when we bought this place, because we'd long resided near very noisy rental housing. We swung by late one evening to find the complex as quiet as can be. The only people I even see out on their tiny balconies are kids playing with their toys.

So I didn't know what to do when confronted by this person, with these hateful opinions. So I did what any self-respecting parent would do. I leaned on my toddler like a crutch and told the woman I needed to get her into her crib for a nap, could we talk again some other time?

I wish I'd had the guts to tell her off. I wish I'd seen her to the door, announcing that her kind wasn't wanted in my house.

Instead, I sat gaping like an idiot at the racist in my living room. Perhaps it is I who needs a six-foot fence.


Anonymous said...

There's nothing you can say to people like that. I'd suggest just being too busy next time she comes over. It's really not worth saying anything about because, trust me, this woman will not get it.

Boy, that seems so cowardly.

But I've tried the "speaking up" part before with the people around here and it just falls on deaf ears. Deaf, white-hooded ears.

The best I can do is keep the kid away from their influence and teach the kid about all people.

Good luck!

Michele said...

I have had similiar issues with my MIL, of all people.

I have tried different tactics, including saying "I dont know where you are going with this but I am offended." and "Whats your point?" but she still occasionally asks a stupid question like "Are there alot of black people in your neighborhood?"

She doesnt see how just asking me that is offensive but why the hell would she ask?

I have nothing to offer but empathy. And smart-ass comebacks I only think of but dont say.

Andrea said...

That totally sucks, and I often have to bite my tongue for my father-in-law's crap when it comes to the same subject. When he starts up, I wish I had the luxury of seeing him out and avoiding him like I never met him. I never think of the good comebacks until well after the incident is over anyway, simply because I'm too shocked for my brain to function in its normally snarky capacity.

I hope you have better luck with the other neighbors. The Midwest has its share of bigots, but they're the exception, not the rule.

Anonymous said...

That stinks. I'm sorry that someone who could've been a potential friend just eliminated herself from contention.

I understand being dumbstruck and not knowing what to say. I just wish that more of us could summon the courage to call people on their rudeness - whether it's bigotry, such as you described, or inappropriate questions and comments.

T. said...

Wow, that must have been fun.

I would have done the exact same thing. Politely removed myself from the situation.

But if you ever find yourself in that situation again with her, maybe that would be the time to speak up.

And making sure your children are surrounded by ethnic diversity is a good start to help eradicate racist ideas like your pig-headed neighbour.

I wish I lived next door to you. I would freely and willingly tell her to go find some other white trash redneck to spread her poison to. You're not interested. (And then I would run back to your place, lock the door and make you walk me home. Just in case she wanted to beat me up!)

Good luck!

Melissa said...

Ahhhh I despise that crap. Those people, sheesh. There isn't a thing you could have done to change her mind, you know that right? Some people are happy living in their ignorance. I don't know what I would ahve said either. It's strange, becasue I live in LA and rarely do I here things like that here. But I know it happens, there are still racists everywhere. Luckily they are dwindling and one day they will be the minority.

If she turns up again, be busy or sick or tell her you were just leaving. Eventually she'll get the hint. It sounds like they probably won't live there wrong.

Brenda said...

Garg! I get that crap from my ILs: Chinese people shouldn't be allowed to drive oh and my favs "push start" and "pull start" (Hindus and Sikhs/anyone wearing a turban for those of you whose brains are not twisted). Luckily my 6 month old doesn't understand yet, we had a tough enough time getting them not to smoke around the baby, but I am sure at Christmas it will be "too cold" to smoke outside grrrrrr.

One battle at a time right?

Anonymous said...

Well I guess you can feel lucky that you found out right away. I sometimes do exactly what you did and I beat myself up but I think it's hard to change a person like that (though not impossible). It's really sad.

Jaelithe said...

Man, I am sick of people like that giving my region of the country a bad name.

Being the only child of a particular race in a classroom can be challenging (no matter what race the child is, and no matter what race the other children are). But her other comments make it clear that she has a very twisted perspective on race. How sad and lonely it must be for this woman, surrounded by nice, quite responsible neighbors she won't talk to because she's terrified by the color of their skin.

(By the way I live in an apartment complex right now, and it's one of the nicest communities I've ever lived in. I've never had neighbors more neighborly. If only the complex owners would ever actually fix anything that broke here I wouldn't be nearly so desperate to buy a house!)

ewe are here said...

Sadly, my bio father was rather racist in his views. My sister and I would just tell him to knock it the hell off whenever he made some racist crack. I don't know how or why, but we knew instinctively he was sooo wrong. Same with my maternal grandmother. Maybe it was her generation (my mother's defense of her), but the stupid things that would come out of her mouth... like 'I don't go to the grocery store on Saturdays because there are too many of thooose people there. But I'm not a racist!' and whe'd whip out the picture of her one black 'friend', a woman at her church. Good grief.

Anyways, it's a tough position to be in, and you handled it the politest way you could. It's probably not worth a battle with your neighbors; just be polite and maintain your distance.

pseudostoops said...

I'm with anon, above- at least this woman has revealed herself early on as someone you're not interested in making friends with. Imagine if you'd developed a close neighborly relationship before she let the "those people" comment slip and you had to try to extricate yourself...

Also, not all of the midwest is like this. I swear.

Melissa said...

What kills me about that situation is how most people don't say what they're thinking and so their racism is far more damaging. To society but mostly to their children.

The comment about being the only white kid, I wouldn't be offended by that alone. I wouldn't want to be the ONLY white, black or chinese kid in my class. Certainly it can work and be a good experience but I can see that being a valid concern for a kid. A kid who just wants to 'fit in'.

The fence comment and the apartment thing....I was at a birthday party a few weeks ago where a woman said to me, when I lamented the dirty smoky bowling alley I'd had my son's birthday party at, "Oh yes, I that place is *all blacks*."

I could not believe what I'd just heard. It made my heart skip because I've never seen racism spelled out so blatantly (and I live north of Detroit which is divided by a massive racial rift).

I said, "Well, I don't know about that....the bar was full of really unpleasant white people at 2pm on a Sunday. I think it's just a dirty place."

Annie, The Evil Queen said...

Despite feeling like you should have confronted her, you may have taken teh wisest route. As others have said, mny people are more than satisfied with their narrow views and little can be done to change their minds. You can be polite but distnat in the future since you have to share a neighborhood. It isn't wise to make mortal enemies of a new neighbor. But at least you won't waste time getting close to this woman.

Domestic Slackstress said...

Anthropologist Ruth Benedict said "Racism is an ism to which everyone in the world today is exposed; for or against, we must take sides. And the history of the future will differ according to the decision which we make."

It's hard to speak out when their's a racist a few feet away from you. You won't be sorry if you do speak out next time, though.

My neighbor and the dad of a good friend of my son's told me he wouldn't shop at one of the "ghetto" stores I routinely shop for shoes at because there are "too many negroes" there. Can you believe he said that. He's Latin. People of color divided against each other ... go figure. Maybe they should band together to fight the fair MAN, hmm? Anyway, I boldly said, "Some of my best friends, including my son's best friend, are black. So watch what you say around me, Mister!" Not a very intelligent retort but better than silence I suppose. He looked shocked and replied, "My dad's black." I think he didn't know what to say. His dad definitely is NOT black.

It's scary when you find out which of your friends (and sometimes there are MANY) are racist. Once you uncover their bigotted status, do you keep them around or ditch them as a friend?

Food for thought. Thanks for making me think in your basement.

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Anonymous said...

You know the saying 'fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me'? I think that idea applies here. It is totally understandable that, caught of guard as you were, that you couldn't challenge this woman's comments. But now you know what she thinks and that means she'll say something racist again. I'd rehearse your response - be prepared.
Staying silent all in the name of politeness is a real problem in our society. I'm not saying you have to really get into it with her, but I think it is important that she know you (respectfully?) disagree with her.

Anonymous said...

I moved 2000 miles from home when I was pregnant to reduce the exposure my kids would have to their grandparents racism.

I made it very clear that if they wanted to visit and see their grandchildren, there were certain topics of conversation that were off limits. Those damn "insert race here" comments were the first on the list. It's been a challenge, and one we're still working on. Now that the kids are older I've stopped scolding the grandparents for those comments, the kids have taken over for me. Now I just fight to keep them from comments on my daughters weight and my son's hair length.

It's obviously a different issue with neighbors. Nothing to hold over them to guarantee good behaviour for starters :)

Anonymous said...

Eek - awkward!! This woman sounds scared and paranoid. It may help, next time you meet, to treat her like she's scared and paranoid, and not as a racist. I think that many folks who talk like this do not see themselves as racists, but just had an upbringing unfortunate enough to equate African American skin with danger. She probably feels surrounded (and feels that her child is surrounded) with some unknown threat, so is reaching out to you. Maybe if you can be one voice in her life that lets her see that her fears are irrational, there may be hope for her yet.

Gillian said...

Next time you have your friends who are black or asian or hispanic or whatever over make sure you spend some time in the front yard chatting while you sip coffee on the steps or watching the kids play in the sprinklers. She will stop wanting to drop by your house and you will have had a nice visit with your friends.