We were at Home Depot picking up a few things we needed for the house. It was an otherwise brilliant Saturday. After what seemed like weeks without a real break, we were running a few errands before heading out to listen to some friends make music. It was as laid back as a Saturday could get.
There were two Hispanic guys, employees of the Depot, restocking the shelves with a machine that lifted one of the men high into the air so he could place things on the very top shelves. They were cutting up and having fun, laughing and poking fun of each other. At least I think that's what they were doing. They were speaking in Spanish. Two young guys, thirty-somethings I would guess, making the best of their work time.
"Cuidada! Parada!" called one to the other as they almost hit some of the merchandise with the little crane they were operating. They were laughing and I could tell that they were good friends. Their laughter was contagious and I found myself smiling as well, watching the amigos work and play and enjoy each other's company.
Then this young woman brushed past me with two young men. Probably mid-twenties. She had short red greasy hair with black roots. She was pale and soft looking. She was wearing super tight jeans and had a dragon tattoo on her neck. Her appearance meant nothing to me and I wouldn't have registered her at all except for her words.
"F*&%ing Mexicans," she drawled in a voice loud enough for anyone around to hear. She stared at the two men with contempt. They were oblivious to her. "Why can't they just learn to speak English for Chrissake?"
"Shhhh!" one of her comrades hissed, grabbing her soft arm and heading her toward the door.
"I mean they are in America, the least they could do is learn to talk like us..." The other young man grabbed her other pale arm and they walked her briskly outside.
I looked over to the two young Hispanic men. While I don't know Spanish (I wish I did remember more of what I learned from Hermana Margarita back in tenth grade), it was something like, "Debo ser estúpida o algo, he ido y se equivocó otra vez!" [I must be stupid or something, I've gone and got it wrong again!] They kept cutting up and having a good time while they worked.
I met up with Heidi at the front of the store, fuming at the creepy woman who was just whisked out the door. It was only then that my snappy comebacks came to me. Too late to make a difference. Too late to let her know that not all 'Mericans feel as she does that it is some kind of moral affront to hear a language other than English spoken in public.
Maybe I should have said something about pitying her small mind but admiring her bra straps. Or maybe I should have said that she is so blessed to have everything that she needs and much more than she needs to eat. Here's a response I found on line. I wish I thought of it at the time... "Hey, could you repeat that while I record you on my phone? All my yankee friends back home have been asking me for examples of how Southerners talk & think, and that right there will REALLY make an impression."
But not only would any of those comments probably gotten me thrashed, it wouldn't have made a difference in how that woman thinks. But racist people have me puzzled. WHAT IS their version of America? Would she only be happy if everyone was white and spoke English?
Remember the Coca Cola commercial that aired during the Superbowl?
Remember the backlash?
So. Folks like these better get a grip. They are in for such a rude awakening. Consider the following...
They will learn. They will have to. Their boat is sinking and it must hurt to learn that white supremacy is failing. It's not gone, but it is definitely on the way out. But it has occurred to me that white racists don't speak for our entire society. What I should do is focus on the good and decent people I know. I should hold the sweetness and inclusiveness of my third grade students in my heart. I should try not to let the attitudes of the ignorant get under my skin. America is not racist. Some Americans are.
Over the coming years, the racists will die out. I see it happening more and more. It may not be in my lifetime, but we are working toward a day when the color of someone's skin, their mother tongue, their religious beliefs, their sexual preference - all become less who that person is and more of the diverse, beautiful population we are and are becoming.
Eventually the racists, the homophobic and religious zealots will become the oddballs. Eventually they will have to change or will simply be left behind and will become eccentric outsiders. Hopefully they already are. Our society is moving quickly and decisively away from racial and cultural intolerance. It would be easy to despise the racist idiot I ran into at Home Depot. But after giving it a lot of thought, I pity her. Her old road is rapidly fading.