Amongst other things I’ve done today, I’ve followed with dismay – and not one speck of shock or surprise – the events unfolding in the US, as racist/alt-right/neo-nazi/’economical anxiety-stricken’ groups make public demonstrations across the country.
I won’t recount the history that’s brought such things to the forefront, but suffice to say the Overton window has shifted a little bit, and racist groups feel emboldened because they’re often part of the public discourse.
A few minutes ago, I was idly checking Twitter, and my dismay clicked up a notch when I saw this Tweet:
Walking out of Conestoga Mall and a bro-like individual yells out “dirty paki” as he drives by. How’s your weekend going? #kwawesome
— Robin Mazumder (@RobinMazumder) August 12, 2017
I live within walking distance of Conestoga Mall, in Waterloo, Ontario, so this event happened close to home; plus, it reminded me of an episode I witnessed years ago.
During my university days, my good friend (and classmate) – who’s Vietnamese – and I rented an apartment on Albert Street. Late one Saturday morning, probably around 11am, we were outside the apartment building. My friend was having a smoke (which he didn’t regularly do), so this was probably in April or August, around exam-time.
Anyway, there’s a path behind the building that runs along a seldom-used railway line; while we’re outside, a kid of probably 14-17 years comes shuffling/strutting (struffling?) by. He’s got the droopy pants, the baggy shirt, etc., and he’s doing that weird baggy-pants waddle that you see folks do – details which aren’t particularly relevant, but help to paint the picture.
He’s also drunk. As hell. Now let me remind you, we’re not quite yet at noon.
He sorta shuffle-waddles in our direction and asks Roomie for a cigarette; my Roomie politely turns him down (for one: Roomie doesn’t have another cigarette on him; arguably more importantly: giving a kid a cigarette is probably a crime). And I mean politely, like, “Sorry man, I don’t have another.” Y’know, civilized, polite, reasonable, etc.
Well, our little drunkard wasn’t having that. He starts losing his shit, yelling out all sorts of racist epithets – the ones usually used against folks of Asian descent. You know what they are.
He kept walk-shuffling a bit farther away, then he’d turn and yell some more. This tactic continued until he’d gone beyond earshot.
I was aghast/appalled/infuriated. Full-on fight-or-flight kicking in, and I was all out of flight. Like, “Hey, should we, um, go knock his ass down?” Just couldn’t believe it – but, of course, I could…because racism is everywhere in our society. It’s usually a little under the surface, but it’s there. So I wasn’t surprised, but here it was all up in my face.
Of course, it was really up in Roomie’s face. I just had the eye-widening experience of witnessing it from two feet away.
Roomie just stood there, eerily calm, the picture of grace under fire, and with a measured demeanor he just continued to smoke his cigarette with style. He’s like, “Don’t worry about it”, and “This shit happens”, and so on.
I fucking will worry about it. It shouldn’t fucking happen. What the fuck is wrong with people?
It occurred to me – again, something I would’ve already known but that was not getting driven home – that this incident wasn’t the first on Roomie’s “My Racist Experiences!” list. I had lots of Asian friends in University, and I’m sure they all had many such experiences. I recall a Chinese friend recounting an incident when people had yelled shit at her. I recall some Vietnamese friends who had garbage thrown at them out of a car. I recall another Chinese friend who was sitting at the beach with a black friend of hers…and a police officer came up to them, unprovoked/unsummoned, to make sure everything was OK.
It took me a long time to ‘get over’ the incident I ‘shared’ with Roomie; but ‘get over’ is the wrong term. Move on? ‘Accept’ (that it happened)? Come to terms with how we handled it?
To complicate matters, I feel real sympathy for that droopy-drawered punk who yelled vile things at Roomie. What type of life has he had, that caused him to be piss-drunk before noon, and to descend into racist madness when his request for a cigarette was politely declined? This incident was more than 12 years ago – where’s that kid today? Frankly, I don’t think he had the opportunity to even turn into the bro-douche who yelled at Robin Mazumder.
The truth is, I still get shaking mad when I think about the episode. And that same feeling has come back repeatedly today when I’ve dared to check the news. It came back when I saw Robin Mazumder’s tweet.
As satisfying/gratifying as it is, I’m sure the answer isn’t to just beat the shit out’ve all the racists, Nazis, etc. who are stepping forward in modern times. Plus, I’m scrawny and I’ve never been in a real fight. Oh, and guns and knives and stuff are real risks.
OK, so if physical confrontation is off the table, then what?
Certainly, all the non-vile folks need to shout louder than the deplorables (that’s right, I said it!)…even though shouting and causing a scene isn’t something reasonable folks usually do. So a hat-tip to the many counter-protesters standing up for what’s right and just in the US today.
How will the racists respond? Probably by doubling-down, feeling persecuted, and – when backed into a corner – getting even worse.
Racists gonna racist, and that isn’t gonna change anytime soon; it’s up to the rest of us to create, to foster, to maintain an environment where that type of thing stands out as an ugly blot and – while you’re free to exercise your freedom of speech – society is free to impose very real and very real and very lawful consequences on your racist ass.