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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