Now Showing In A Neighborhood Near You!

FADE-IN. Beautiful garden pool party. The sun is setting and children are playing in the pool. The beautiful people mingle and talk, carrying drinks in their hands save one plain Jane, trying to fit in. Soft conversations and the laughter of children can be heard in the background. Four women are talking together in a group.

WOMAN #1

Oh, we just LOVE Perfect Grades Elementary! Absolutely LOVE it!

WOMAN #2

We had Mrs. Spectacular this year. For kindergarten. She is a gem!

PLAIN JANE

Oh, is it a K-5 school?

WOMAN #2

Yes, it is. And they’re making it a Charter School next year. They’ll be offering karate, piano, Chinese, expanded art classes. I can’t wait.

WOMAN #3

I know. I hate it that my little Allie is graduating. We’re going to miss it!

PLAIN JANE

What are the class sizes like?

WOMAN #2

Oh, the average size. But every class has an aid and the kids are so well-behaved. They WANT to be there.

WOMAN #3

And, most of the kids are (her words are barely audible, muddled by the shouts of the children playing in the pool)

Thinking she misheard, Jane leans in closer.

PLAIN JANE

Pardon me?

WOMAN #1 and WOMAN #3

(leaning in together and whispering)

White

Plain Jane is speechless and unable to overcome her shock. She glances over at her Asian son playing with the other white children. The chatter among the women continues as Jane fades into the background.

This scene actually happened to me this past weekend. A gorgeous garden party in our subdivision. The perfect evening. And when those women repeated the word “white” I stood there, unable to utter a sound. I thought, in that moment, that this is going to be one of those times when I’ll think of the perfect thing to say as soon as we get into the car to go home.

But I didn’t. And days later, it is still bothering me.

I shared this scene with a dear friend and neighbor of mine. She had to miss the party. I was relaying the scene and before I could finish she said, “Oh, I know EXACTLY what I would have said. I would have said….” And then she rattled off the perfect retort. (Just one of the reasons I love her so!)

But what would YOU say? How would you finish the scene?

 

 

38 Comments

Filed under Observations

38 responses to “Now Showing In A Neighborhood Near You!

  1. I’m sitting here fuming on your behalf. Racism is something that I can’t abide. I don’t think I’d have said anything. I’d have just pushed them both into the pool!

  2. Mel

    I would have been flabbergasted too. I always come up with a good retort after it’s too late. Maybe sarcasm would have worked, like thank goodness all our kids are white-ish, you couldn’t have meant asian, right, you meant black? Or well, this is awkward. I’d probably have gotten so mad I wouldn’t remember what I said.
    I’m at a loss. My kids go to a 98% white school, but the Hispanic population is growing and they are becoming prejudiced in a way that concerns me. I keep telling them the world does not look like their school, but they are going to have to live in it to find out, I’m afraid. I’m more afraid of snotty pampered white kids than I am of any minority group. But it sucks when you find out that your neighbors are so small minded. In my experience, nothing an open minded person says has any positive effect on the small minded.

  3. I’m stunned. I wouldn’t know what to say either, But I just might have accidentally spilled my Sweet Tea on someone’s Lilly Pulitzer outfit.

  4. Seriously??? Are they mean-spirited idiots or just plain stupid??
    I probably would have gone to my fall-back: sarcasm. “Oh, NO, we wouldn’t want any children of COLOR, would we? We know what happens THEN.”
    Clearly you are a classier woman than I am.

  5. This is a great post, Jane, and I think it’s great that you’re putting it out there, because this is sort of a rampant problem, isn’t it? When I’m in a situation like this, I am torn between the polite, mannerly side of me who wants to make people comfortable, and the activist side of me. I might have been as stunned as you to say anything. I think I would have asked a question–that’s my escape, the question that is really a statement. “Why does the kids being white make a difference?” That would at least put the onus on them to respond, and I’m sure it would make them feel uncomfortable to have to admit to their racism.

  6. OMG!!! I’m in shock. I don’t know what I would have said. I hate that about myself…at the moment I have nothing, then I go home and come up with a bunch of retorts (that usually have some swear words properly placed) that do me no good.

    Did you stick around?

    • I know. I’m frankly a bit ashamed of myself that I didn’t say anything. I mean, I have an Asian son to defend. I was so uncomfortable I just stood there until the conversation turned and then I left the group. Coward!

  7. angelcel

    I wouldn’t know what to say. I can be oh-so-wittily-cutting after the fact, or if it involves someone *else* but at the time and/or directed to me? I’m afraid I’d have done just the same as you. I think Jana’s response is probably the best in this situation – a calm and direct question that asks what exactly the problem is? At least it would make them *think*.

  8. Wow Jane! I think I wouldn’t also been speechless but if I was able to utter a response, I’d say something like, “well, that’s unfortunate because my children learn best and thrive in an environment that is culturally diverse.” I’m so sorry that this happened to you and that there are people like this.

  9. This has happened to me many times…but not with race, but with being disabled. I do the same thing…I am struck speechless at the person’s ignorance…and don’t say anything…and stew about it for days…and try and prepare myself better for next time. Maybe you could have said “Why don’t we go ask my son how he would like that school?” Maybe that would be too mean!! See, I’m terrible at this! I’m sorry that happened to you. Losers!!!

  10. Janelle

    Oh my! My jaw would have dropped open and I would have spent the next week or so thinking about what I should have said. That is unbelievable.

  11. Unbelievable! This is yet another example of how racism is still alive and well in the US. I try to teach this to my students but they don’t really get it since most of them are Hispanic and we live in Miami where nearly everyone is Hispanic. I tell them stories of when I grew up teased mercilessly for being of mixed race in the small town where we lived and they think I’m crazy.

  12. unabridgedgirl

    I think I would be just as stunned as you. I don’t even know if I could lift my jaw from the ground. What a horrible thing to say! It makes me so uncomfortable and bothered and even angry that people still that sort of mindset. I just want to give you a big hug!

  13. Oh god, I got nothing. What did your neighbor say so that I’ll know what to hurl back in case I ever hear something like this!

  14. I read this earlier this morning, and it’s been on my mind since, and I still don’t have a killer comeback. In moments like those, the need for change is so overwhelming that I’d feel helpless (and a tiny bit hopeless.
    I just can’t believe this happened. I’m sure I would have managed something sarcastic – “I KNEW we were at the wrong party!”, gesturing to beautiful Asian child.

  15. Ugh. Lump in my throat as I remind myself that this is 2010 and there are people still like this. (And that they’re allowed to open their mouths.)

    I would have said, “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s time for us to leave. My Asian son and I don’t enjoy the company of bigots.”

    Please reveal your friend’s actual retort suggestion. I’m eager to know!

  16. Wow. Stunned here, too. I would have loved to have said something like, “Well, I guess my son, you know, the Asian one, wouldn’t be welcome there.” But, alas, I doubt I would have had the guts. Don’t people realize diversity is something so very valuable??

  17. Oh Jane. Oh my goodness. I’m just as speechless.

    Being Asian, I have a feeling these women would not have said what they did in my presence. But if they were shameless enough to do it, I have no idea what I would have come up with.

    In your shoes, I might have said, “You do know my son is Asian, right?” Would have waited for embarrassed silence. And then I would have collected my child, told him to wave politely at those women on the way out, and vowed to disassociate myself from them from then on. (I’m unfortunately a bit of a hermit, so that wouldn’t be hard.)

    Shaking my fist on your behalf, Jane.

  18. “Oh, thank God. Because we were planning on sending only one son there. He’s getting too much diversity at home.”

  19. Silence. Seriously, she said that. I want to say I can’t believe it, but I can. As an Asian woman, I’ve experienced racism. I remember being the only brown kid in my class in high school and being condemned by my high school teacher for embracing the Hindu religion. She told me, in front of all my classmates, I was going to go to hell. I’ve never forgotten that moment and I know racism will continue to persist. I will just have to work around it.

    Sorry you had to go through that. So sorry.

  20. I’m totally disgusted. I’ve been caught in situations like this about adoption or other issues and I never seem to find the right words to say and then go away thinking ..I should have said this or that.

    Actually it’s hard to believe people still think that way, but deep down when you scrape off the pc veneer so many people do.

  21. Extremely disturbing. Nevertheless ignorance is hard to change, and a garden party isn’t the time. I think, you did very well. 🙂

    http://whenredmeansgo.blogspot.com

  22. I can guarantee I never would have come up with a response in time. I never do. I think what I would have liked to say would be “oh, and is that an advantage?”. Or something to that effect. Then avoid those women like the plague.

  23. suzicate

    Jane, I am stunned and sad. some people are so close minded, rude, univiting, and self-serving…sorry, I couldn’t think of the right adjectives, but I’m sure you get my meaning. I probably would have been just like you, shocked into silence and still thinking of a perfect retort. Gee, I wish your friend had been there to speak up. I’m so sorry you have to endure people like that in your own neighborhood.

  24. Don’t think I would have said anything either. I just hope my kids do not say things like that, I am working my hardest to teach them to be welcoming and loving to every person, despite their color.

  25. Sometimes this works against me, but I’m sure I would have spoken my mind, grabbed my son and hightailed it out of there. I just don’t understand the total lack of filter that some people have!

  26. Wow. I’m sorry I didn’t make it over yesterday to read, but saw todays post and had to come see what everything was about.
    Honestly? I probably would have been so in shock I, like you, wouldn’t have known what to say.
    I’m so sorry.

  27. Ironically this makes me think of what a sheltered (or perhaps naive) life I lead. I wouldn’t know what to say because I couldn’t imagine facing this situation. But you remind me that it’s a live and real and it’s just so sad. My face probably would have said it all.

  28. My first instinct was: I would have been POed! But I would not have been invited to the party in the first place… 😉

    A great comeback could have been: “Oh, excellent! This way your children MAY have a chance to be the valedictorian, or represent the school at Spelling Bees, or compete in science fairs…”

  29. I just caught this post. Sorry for crashing the party late.

    First, let me say, I love the way you tell the story. It’s a real page turner. Or down-arrow inducer. Whatever. You know what I mean.

    I don’t think I would have had to say anything. I’m sure the utter look of shock and disgust would give it away. I would probably just fade from the conversation (which they’d never notice, of course) and then never associate with that person ever again. Ever.

    I had an eyeopening experience at my grandmother’s house once. We would always hang out on the porch. Neighbors would come and go. My grandparents had the kind of place that was the exact opposite of mine: welcoming and open to all.

    One day a neighbor stopped by and casually dropped the “N-bomb” in the middle of a conversation. I was younger then. I waited eagerly for grandma to get indignant, put her foot down, and tell the so-and-so where he could go stick himself.

    Oddly enough, though, she never did. It didn’t seem to bother her at all and I never took the time to ever ask her about it later on. But it was always in the back of my mind from that moment on.

    That was the day I learned a little something about the way the world works. 😦

  30. I would totally have been stunned speechless, but would probably have called out to my kids in Spanish. And then made a phone call to my hispanic husband. And THEN come back with something witty.

  31. ck

    I’ve been thinking on this for a few minutes and I don’t know that I would’ve been able to come up with a good retort. I’m too passive-aggressive. I think I would’ve been focused on how to accidentally trip one of them in a way that would’ve caused the biggest scene possible.

  32. I’ve tended to live in racially and culturally diverse areas… and love the mishmash of everything. So, I was unprepared for my 4 yr old son (who I mistakenly thought should have known better) pointing and exclaiming as we walked past a teenage boy in the park: “Look, Mom! A black boy!” I was so embarrassed, but then I realized, the place we just moved from was almost completely WHITE. I KNEW there was something I didn’t like about that place and a good reason I was so eager to leave! I’ve been loving being around so many differences… although I have to admit, it’s still too white here for me. (Talk about being anti-white!) 😉

    • You know, I think this example is just a developmental milestone – noticing differences. When my boys (only 10 months apart in age) were about 4 they would often compare their skin color or describe others as “the brown girl” or “the boy with the pink skin like you.” Now, it wasn’t an exclamation – very matter of fact as a way to describe other people. But your son’s reaction and description is probably very, very normal.

  33. I would have initially been stunned. In hindsight, allowed the opportunity to repeat the scenario, I would have had a few choice words, that cut to the chase.
    Good grief, I hate it when people say crap like this and assume that I am okay with it.

  34. I once had a young boy of 8 or 9 tell me how ugly he thought mixed race children were and how gross he thought mixed race couples were, in the presence of MY mixed race children. I KNEW he was referring to black/white mixed race vs. my childrens asian/white mixed race but wanted to UNteach him a lesson he obviously learned at home. So, I turned to him and asked him if he thought my daughters were “ugly” and he fairly screamed NO, of course not. And I told him THEY were mixed race and he said no they weren’t. I explained that they were asian/white mixed race and he replied “well, THAT doesn’t count.” WTH? I had to explain to him that stereotyping “mixed race” would indeed include ANY races mixed together. Not sure if I got through to him but I never volunteered to take him anywhere else.

  35. skylar

    I belive my response would have been “oh my, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were a racist” with the greatest tone of distain I could manage after which I would simply walk away. I have a tendancy to say exactly what I’m thinking, sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse.

    Racism is like smoking, it’s only a problem when we make it a problem for the people who are participating in the behavior.

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