Better Half

Family, Life, and Politics from Wifey

What Would You Do? March 12, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — raitking @ 11:25 pm

questionEver seen that TV show, some ABC special I think, called What Would You Do? They set up these really crazy, often disturbing scenarios where people are being harassed, or are doing the harassing, or are in need of some type of assistance, while the cameras watch the reactions of the people around them.
Well Shaun and I love this show-although I think they may be running out of ideas because the last episode showed scenarios that I thought were pretty stupid.  Anyway, I was in Target a few days ago waiting in the check out line when a lady in front of me struck up a conversation. She was a well dressed, middle-aged white woman (this detail is relevant to the story) who began talking to me about the baby (Savannah) and her own kids. It was  just the regular small talk you’d have with a complete stranger.
Well then this other lady walks by with three kids who were clearly misbehaving. The stranger I’m talking to allows her gaze to follow the other lady as she struggles to get the kids under control. I must say that I had already noticed the lady earlier in the store because she was very skinny and I remember thinking that it wasn’t fair that some people could pop out 3 kids and still be rail thin. Plus I remember that one of her children was giving her the blues-despite every threat of punishment she leveled against him- and how he was too old to be acting that way, and how I’d like a chance to snatch him up myself…anyhow, I digress.
Back to the conversation with the stranger in line. So after following the drama with the woman and her kids until they were out of sight, the stranger turns to me and says “I probably shouldn’t say this, but….” Pause right here. If you have to precede your comment with the words ‘I probably shouldn’t say this’, then you really probably shouldn’t say it!!

So the woman says “I probably shouldn’t say this, but have you ever seen a SKANKY JEW?”  I looked at her in confusion and said “huh?”  She continued, “That woman over there.  Have you ever seen a skanky jew?  Normally Jews are so well put together.  They have money and are well dressed.  That woman looks like poor white trash.”  I  literally looked around for a few seconds to see if those What Would You Do cameras were watching me because NO WAY would someone carry on such an inappropriate conversation with a complete stranger.

I knew then that I should say something smart and courageous-something about how she should have indeed kept the thought to herself because it was stereotypical and insulting.  But sadly I learned that I’m not so courageous because all I could think to say was “Well, I wouldn’t know if someone was Jewish or not just by looking at them.”  She then said that she could tell because she had a lot of Jewish friends (I’m thinking, really?  And do they know you harbor such thoughts about what it means to be them?) and plus she noted that the woman’s little boys had on yamachas.  Of course I had noticed them.  And I had also noticed that the woman was almost sickly thin, and was a little disheveled.  I attributed it to the stress of motherhood and 3 kids doing all they could to drive her crazy.  I guess the look on my face showed my displeasure with the conversation because the stranger repeated that she probably shouldn’t have said it and turned around to finish checking out her items.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t understand why the woman felt the way she felt.  Thinking of all my stereotypical images of Jewish people, homely doesn’t come to mind.  But that’s just it, my images of well to do, powerful, power wielding Jews is stereotypical. But I’m informed enough to not go around judging people based on those stereotypes.

First of all, no one deserves to be judged by what others think it means to be a member of their race.

Secondly, last I checked the term ‘poor white trash’ was offensive.

Thirdly, who says something so mean spirited ABOUT a complete stranger TO a complete stranger?

And Fourthly, what in the world made her make a stereotypical, racially charged comment to a black woman of all people?  I am the least likely to join in on her racist, bourgeoisie rhetoric!!

I tried to think of what Shaun would have said.  No way would he have just let the comment slide like I did.  He would have called her on her BS.  Next time, I will too.  This incident is just one way that I am being challenged to LIVE courageously.

Think about it honestly.  If put in the same situation, What Would YOU Do?


5 Responses to “What Would You Do?”

  1. Kristi Says:

    Not only have I heard some of these comments, but I have also been the subject of some of them. In college, I was in an interracial relationship, which is definitely frowned upon in most of Alabama. We actually left a movie theater once because we overheard people in the theater making VERY racist comments to themselves and we felt unsafe. Before I was the subject of these types of comments, I had a hard time standing up and saying something. But now that I know how it feels to be talked about in such a horrible way, I feel like I have to say something. Even if its just, “I’m sorry but I don’t appreciate comments like that.” I wish I could go back in time to that movie theater and respectfully give those people a piece of my mind! I’ve learned that if I don’t speak up, these people never realize that what they’re saying is hurtful and unacceptable. Its definitely hard at first… but once you do it a few times… it gets easier and easier.

  2. lisa wentzel Says:

    first of all, i like your writing style,rai. i was shocked to hear snakey, laughed and resonated when you let me in on your thought(s) which come in packages of 4 at time.. and love the fact that you have a very purposeful reason to it all.

    i am a speaker upper. my mind wants to say it like my polish grandma:” hey, you shouldnt talk like that or God is gonna punish you until you feel what people feel”

    but i tend to pop it out with grace even for the racist and find it helpful to start with bringing empathy to the situation. it seems to be powerful and win win when i can remind others that we are all one, made in the image of God and should treat people as such.

    my son wanted permission to punch someone on behalf of his friend who was the victim of high school racist comments. i said sure. he punched the racist, got called to the dean and all. they never bothered my son or his friend again. my sons friend grew to be much larger that my son, he is now the state wrestling champ and is there to help him if needed!

    i am unsure about my decision to say “yes, throw a punch”
    what does anyone advise on that?, high school boys keep in mind.

  3. Sheldon Says:

    My response adresses both the initial question as well as Lisa’s response. I, a white male, was exposed to racial comments when I was in an interracial relationship. This was something I endured everyday when I was dating this girl. After being pushed to my limit one day by a boy name “Trip” I asked my dad if I would get into trouble if I got into a fight with someone who made racial comments towards me. He said no and I took that as permission in that circumstance. The next time the boy made a comment, about a week later, I bucked up at him and he threw the first punch. I fought him and didn’t get into trouble with my parents. Did it change the boys opinions…no. Did the racial comments stop…no. Did I feel better…NOT AT ALL!!! That remains the biggest mistake of my life to this day. I had never gotten into trouble with the school until until that day. It remained on my record all the way until college. It prevented me from getting into some student organizations in school. It did nothing but degraded me to step down to his level. One of my favorite quotes, by Jeremy Talylor “It is impossible to make people understand their ignorance; for it requires knowledge to perceive it and therefore he that can perceive it hath it not.” Racism is a form of ignorance. It can only be changed by the individual. I think that we should stop taking so much of our precious time to try and change a person and use that time to better ourselves and be the change that we want to see in the world.

    • raitking Says:

      Thanks for your very transparent, thoughtful response. Because Shaun has dealt with these types of race issues as a teenager that resulted in a life changing assault, I would take an approach somewhere in the middle of yours and Lisa’s. I think it’s very important that we respond to any type of bullying or teasing because as in Shaun’s case, if not, things can be allowed to fester and blow up one day. If this is happening between young people, I think it’s the parent’s responsibility to take care of it, not the child’s. This does not have to be done in violence. There are rare times when I would justify my child acting out aggressively against someone. Especially nowadays when a simple school yard scuffle can easily turn into a gun fight.
      I’m not sure how I feel about your thoughts on trying to bring a racist out of ignorance. I think it’s true that we all see the light when we see it. But if no one ever turns on the switch, do the ignorant even stand a chance?

  4. Mom Says:

    Rai, I know how you feel, believe me. And in this particular situtation, I would have been seething! I don’t know how much I would have said, if anything, because I can be rather sharp-tongued at times and I am learning that sometimes more is said by the less that is said. By the time I had shut my mouth like a steel trap and turned colder than the Artic on the woman who was speaking, she would have known that she was out of line.

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