Every now and again, you'll be coasting through life thinking, "Hey, shit's aaaaalright" and then something happens that knocks you off balance for a second. That something, for me, happened this morning. After a particularly hectic, busy, and emotionally draining morning, I was driving home and stopped at a crosswalk. There was an older caucasian gentleman standing as if he was going to cross. He stood there for some time, probably not realizing I was even there, waiting for him to make his move.
Finally, figuring he was a.) waiting for someone and not crossing or b.) just taking a rest or c.) just plain zoning out because, shit, life is long...I pulled up a bit. Well, the second I inched my car up, he stepped into the crosswalk and proceeded to start yelling at me from the street.
Being in the state of mind I was in (bigger fish to fry, etc.), I ignored him. Plus, I felt kind of bad that I freaked the old guy out. I put up my hand to say, "Go ahead. Walk." He crossed, I pulled up to the red light a few feet up. He hobbled up to the corner where the red light was and continued yelling. "Oh GOD, i thought. This guy's done lost it. I'm so embarassed. Is he going to start in on my windshield with his cane? Holy shit, I can't believe the light is still red."
As I was sitting there, seeing if there was a way to run the light or jump the curb, I heard it.
"Why don't you learn to read English! I know you don't even speak English! Go back to your country!"
All the stress of the morning and then having this guy cock his arm back and hurl these mean, racist curve balls straight at my gut...my mind started spinning. Before I even knew what was happening, I had rolled down the window, flipped the guy the bird and yelled, "I do speak English. Why don't YOU go to hell you old, racist fuck."
I immediately gasped. I couldn't believe those words had come out of my mouth. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love cursing, but usually in a silly, ridiculous, cheeky way. And, I don't do it much these days except, well, here. In real, technicolor 3-D life, I'm just not a highly confrontational person and don't typically yell things out at people in anger, particularly strangers. Really loud noise freaks me out.
The light turned green and I made my escape. I didn't look back, but imagined that he was sitting there, watching me drive away and waving his cane in fury at being told off by one of Them Thar Foreigners.
So, I try to learn from different experiences and think of ways I could have handled them better. I really, truly do. It's something I started focusing on four years ago. Children will have that effect on you. So, it's no surprise that once my skyrocketing blood pressure simmered, one of the first things I thought of was my daughter.
What if she had been in the car? How could I have explained what the man was saying? How could I have explained to her why mommy said a bad, bad word. And, how would I explain to her the other, more difficult word -- "racist"?
I immediately knew that I needed to do better. I needed to know that there are people in this world who are going to say nasty, hateful things, and I don't want to teach my daughter that the answer is to spew the same nasty hatred back. The best thing in that situation would have been to just drive away. Not engage. Or, if I really felt like I wanted to say something, why not something less venomous? Picture this alternate scenario: "Angry Sir, I do read English. In fact, I was an English major in college and have a master's degree in Journalism, which, incidentally, was all in English as well. My favorite book is an American classic -- The Great Gatsby. I thought you weren't crossing the street; just a misjudgement on my part. Plus, let's look on the bright side, shall we? I didn't run you over. Have a nice day."
I mean seriously, did it make me feel better to call him a name? (Ok, maybe a little.) But, mostly I still felt pretty crappy. Was I really going to teach this guy a lesson about respect for other races, nationalities...human beings? No. I mean, dude was about 80 years old. He was going to go to his grave with those beliefs and a million "fuck yous" were not going to change that. I needed to put aside my V for Racial Vengeance superhero (who I think probably looks something like the Incredible Hulk except totally ethnic) and consider what I wanted to teach my child: there are constructive, peaceful ways to deal with hate.
And then there's this little detail: my daughter is half caucasian. Her father comes from good ol' American white boy stock. As her Asian mother, I'm used to pumping up that half of her. Telling her how beautiful her brown skin is, her almond-shaped eyes, etc. She looks a lot like me so sometimes it's easy to forget...she is only half me. And her other half can't be colored with the same shallow, blanket, narrow-minded views that the old fuck on the street corner (sorry, can't deny name-calling can be ever so slightly gratifying in these situations) painted me with.
So, back to the drawing board. I'm off to put together a list of "constructive, peaceful ways to deal with hate." Wish me luck. But, before I do that, I want to say that racist attitudes can be funny. Really. Well, at least when you have Ricky Gervais poking fun at them...