"You should be washing my dishes, nigger!"

I am so behind on my own posts (life continues to ricochet me from crisis to celebration, lots of surfing in the last few days, too), but I have to share this story from a friend (whose ethnic ancestry includes Asian-American) before I post anything else:

I was passing the entrance of the trailer court down the road, when I noticed three teenagers (one girl and two guys) standing together. They had a pretty shady look about them, so I felt myself put up my guard. Still, I smiled and nodded when I jogged past them. The girl was blond and heavyset with tight jeans and dark eye makeup. She glared right at me as I past, and when I got 5 feet past her, I heard her yell, “You should be washing my dishes, nigger!”

Can you believe that? I couldn’t. So I stopped and turned around and looked back at her. She was staring straight back at me – not as if she had said it to one of her friends, but definitely as if she had yelled it at me. I said the first words that came into my mind, and I said it with my best mother/teacher voice, and with my eyebrows arched and my back straight.

I looked right at her and said, “I KNOW you didn’t just call ME a nigger.” And then the two guys with her turned around, and I felt fear hit me in the gut – the way it has the other times people have called me a nigger in my life, and I turned and kept jogging. After all, I grew up playing in trailer courts and I have no illusions about the kind of people (both good and bad) who inhabit them. A murder had recently happened in that particular trailer park, and that seemed good enough reason not to risk a physical altercation. Plus, I had nothing else to say—unless it involved some retaliation of name-calling on my part. And believe me, I had some choice names to throw her way, but then I would have been sinking to her level.

You know, it’s been so long since I was growing up in Eureka – in a part of town where ignorance is high, and therefore, racism is common – that I’ve almost forgotten how common it is. One likes to think that the racists I knew as a child grew up and changed with the times, even though it is more likely that they had a bunch of kids and taught them the same horrid ways. I cannot help but understand that girl better than she understands herself, because I grew up in her world. She feels how low she is on the social scale, so she looks for someone to place lower than herself. She clings to her “whiteness,” because it is literally all she has. And since African-American people are so rare in Mckinleyville, she settles for calling someone like me a “nigger.” Close enough, right?

The nigger word has been thrown at me 4 or 5 times in my life, but it’s been twenty-five years since the last time it happened, and I haven’t missed it a bit.

It’s so ludicrous that a person like her should feel that she is at all qualified to call me a name. I actually had quite a good jog after that. I kept thinking about where I placed in my last race. It’s not like I collected any medals or anything, but I was very pleased with my finishing time. So there I was out jogging, and I doubt that idiot girl could jog ten feet – what with her tight pants and her methamphetamine diet and all. And that feeling of self-worth, that knowledge of my own power, was yet another insight as to why my dad, who experienced a lot of racism in his life, might have chosen the life of a runner.

I know that some of the racism directed at my dad, happened right here in this county. But he always said that once people got to know him, the color of his skin was not a problem. Personally, I experienced a lot less overt racism than he did. And my son has experienced much less than me. The world is changing – just not fast enough sometimes.

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7 thoughts on “"You should be washing my dishes, nigger!"”

  1. That last line expressed my experience here–“The world is changing – just not fast enough sometimes.”

    My sons don’t pay much attention to color or gender or sexual identity as a rule. It is good to know the world is changing. But every once in awhile something happens that makes me know that ugly racism/sexism/….exists and it makes my stomach clench.

  2. Next time carry mace and friggin’ soak ’em. I would love to help.

    Believe it or not, my daughters have had a positive experience in the sometimes maligned “redneck” Fortuna-Loleta area schools. My youngests kindergarten was combined with 1st grade remedial English students (thanks CA legislature). A hand full of white students with the remainder Hispanic or Native American. I’ll never forget when she came home mid-semester and asked me why some of her friends were brown. I was flummoxed but I think came up with something like we’re all the same but unique in our special ways, blue eyes, brown hair, pink skin… when I started to go into how we were all Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and some people had evolved in different climates and darker skin contains more of a certain chemical that protects skin from sunlight, and white guys with hairy backs like uncle Josh lived in cold climates……. her eyes started glazing over as they usually do when I try to be intelligent….

    As long as there is ignorance, there will be racism, and unfortunately, some people teach their children to be ignorant.

  3. How sad that girl’s reaction to her own life is. I am disgusted when I witness that kind of behavior & I don’t always react with the maturity & grace that the author of this piece did.
    I do have faith that we are moving in the right direction. When my own child was just past two she met her first person of mixed ethnicity, while her wide eyes and penchant for bold statements had me worried, she reached out for a feel of tightly curled hair and proclaimed “You’ve got a tan!”
    That generation (those I know) seem confused by racism & intolerance.
    Maybe I’m a little ignorant about the issue though, when it comes to tolerating our differences I think SoHum may be a little ahead of the game.

  4. I had gotten about half way through the post when I thought to myself, that sounds like some of the people I have met in McKinleyville. I was not surprised to find out that was where this took place. There are many scary racists and rednecks there. Strange thing is, most of the ones I have run into were young. I don’t get it.
    It’s like, if they had their way, they would be so inbred that they couldn’t even say the word ni***r.
    I hope these people don’t breed. The world doesn’t need anymore idiots

  5. You know that girl was probably what’s her name murder suspect’s little girl.

    Those scrub kids in that neighborhood are pretty dumb. One time a couple of those little up and coming racists was trying to kick me off the park bench in the gas station across the street claiming it was “their bench.” Not like they did anything, they were just drunk and exercising their jawbones… wait a minute, those were probably the same kids.

    Anyway, McKlanleyville is full of racists. Best thing to do is be wary of any white boy that you see, especially the scruffy ones. I mean be kind and understanding.

  6. i dont understand why you should be washing her dishes, its stupid but i think she is probably pissed off at washing dishes in somebodys house. yes the world will change and it will change whether or not racist white folks want to change. This is the century of the east people wake up white supremacy is history, lets usher in the time for eastern supremacy which would be devoid of racism. Power will travel east and pretty soon racists among white folks will be taking a boat trip to get a job cleaning dishes in honh kong or singapore. by the way i dont see anything wrong cleaning disehes other than that it doesent pay good and it is boring.

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