Ignorance Is Far From Bliss

This afternoon, I drove Wil and myself to Trader Joe’s for some groceries. It’s the first time in almost a week that I’ve been behind the wheel, and I was kind of excited to be out around other people. After what seemed like forever trying to find a space in the parking lot (a seeming requirement of this establishment), I finally found one on the far end of the lot and pulled into it. We got out of the car, grabbed our grocery bags, and made our way toward the store.

We hadn’t gotten very far when we heard a woman honk the horn of her SUV at the car in front of her. Her window was down (as was the window of the man whom she was honking at) and we heard her yell “Put on your goddamn blinker you BLACK MAN.” There was so much hatred and, I guess the best way to describe it, venom in her voice. Wil and I stopped in our tracks and stood there, looking at her in total disbelief and shock, with our mouths wide open.

I could tell the man she was yelling at heard her. His car was closer to her than we were, and his window was down. He didn’t say anything to her, but he did put on his blinker and slowly made his turn. I looked at his face, an expression of sadness and defeat at being treated this way. Like he hears this all too often.

The woman drove away and I looked at Wil. We were both so shocked that we didn’t even say anything, not that it would’ve helped by that point. Here was this woman, leaving a grocery store that we all get the same food from, spewing such hateful words at this man and then driving away like it was nothing.

I didn’t have parents who raised me to  be accepting of everyone as equals. My parents weren’t openly racist, they were the quiet types, who just looked scared if a person with different colored skin came near them. I saw this and learned on my own from their ignorance and fear that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin. Their behavior was unnecessary and embarrassing. I vowed to raise my own children with this knowledge I had acquired so that they would be the good people we need more of in this world.

As we walked into Trader Joe’s, the shock of what that woman said slowly turned to anger and shame that there are people like that in the world. I was bothered that I didn’t have the quick thinking brain to call her on it before she drove away. I looked across the store and saw the man she had yelled at, strolling through the produce department, living his life, just like we are.

I hope one day this man, who probably has a wife and kids at home, will someday live in a world where all people are treated as equals. We all have a heart and a brain. I just wish more people would use them for something good.



24 thoughts on “Ignorance Is Far From Bliss

  1. It’s stories like this that make me sad when people claim we live in a post-racial America. Burying our head in the sand isn’t going to end the still-thriving bigotry that exists in too many communities across the US.

    Also, I’m sure that even the quickest, sharpest wit would have only left the woman more offended, and thus feeling more justified in her bigotry. Everyone is the hero in their own story, even those who are most clearly villains to everyone else.

  2. Unless you speak up, change will not come. We are all ambassadors for our own kind. Sometimes that means human kind. Educating those in the moment of their closed mindedness. Letting them know that they are being seen. They are being heard. And the behaviour is not excepted. Then maybe next time she would thing before barking out nonsense such as this. And he would know that someone has his back and to stand tall.

  3. I had an incredibly similar experience today with my 90 year old grandmother. She has a new, incredibly lovely next door neighbor who is constantly shoveling her sidewalk and driveway for her (we’re on the east coast). We were over visiting today, and my dad asked her if she knew who had shoveled, because we were expecting to have to do it for her. Her response was to shrug and say, “Oh, the black people probably did it.” Now, my grandmother is a 90 year old Italian Immigrant, but we’ve had many conversations with her about her tact and language, because unfortunately this is not the first time she has made a comment like this. Today, for some reason, I just got so mad at her that I actually yelled at her. I feel bad about yelling at her now, but in that moment, I just could not believe that someone who immigrated to this country, who could not speak English for many years, was being so casual with her racism.

  4. Much better without the 140 limit you had on earlier. I’m happy to be able to do the same.

    You would think, almost 15 years into the 21st Century, we would have outgrown 18th and 19th Century thinking. As a Canadian, our society wasn’t as badly changed by the end results of slavery. I’m not saying that racism and bigotry were avoided here north of the 49th, but in most of the country, we’ve made some huge strides in comparison to what is still “socially acceptable” for far too many on the south side of our border.

    It begs the question: How did we do it?

    For starters, by the mid-1970’s, our Federal leaders embarked on an official plan of multiculturalism. This ideology was largely supported by political parties from both sides of the political spectrum, and even changes in Governments did not result in changes to policy in this respect.

    Secondly, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms was officially enacted in 1982, at the same time we gained our full independence from the British Crown. Not a single shot was fired. Our Charter was drawn up by Lawyers, Academics, Leaders, and various Free Thinkers after years of trying to get the wording right (the lawyers were really just consulted about making sure that everyone could be protected without leaving any “wiggle room” to violate it once enacted).

    Since 1982, we have hauled that Charter out and dusted it off in classrooms, coffee shops, pubs, at barbeques, hockey games, and around the supper table (just to name a few) and talked about what it really means to be “equal” and “human”.

    We have raised an entire generation in this air of equality and multiculturalism and are presently reaping the benefits. We don’t just talk about it at home, we pass it around the rest of the world, and it has become symbolic of how we feel about each other regardless of sex, ability, religion, and national or ethnic origin.

    Unfortunately, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights were drawn up by a bunch of guys over 200 years ago (with some pretty selfish goals in mind), and nobody’s really made any substantive changes to it since. Likewise, a large portion of the American society has also resisted change for the betterment of all. Instead of listening to your own great leaders, like Kennedy, and King, fear of fundamental change has led to the murder of such men by radicals who see benefit to maintaining the status quo for whatever reason.

    Sadly, what most of your fellow countrymen fail so see is that groups, like visible minorities, immigrants, homosexuals, and women (to basically name most of the country), feel undervalued and marginalized for a very simple reason:

    A very vocal few continue to undervalue and marginalize them.

    This is why there were Race Riots in the 1960’s. This is why Los Angeles exploded (a couple of times). Inequality breeds contempt and contempt breeds violence. Violence breeds fear and hate, while fear and hate breeds a society so self-isolated and angry that it finds solace in bringing others down just so it can feel better about itself.

    As a bystander, thousands of miles away, I just wanted to thank you for writing this. Nobody wants to necessarily stand in a parking lot and call out a bigot (particularly an angry one who is, let’s face it, most likely armed), but hopefully, more people will read of this, and other incidents like it, and hopefully, start to actually think, like reasoned, rational Homo sapiens that we are all supposed to be.

    Be well.

  5. I completely agree. I grew up in a home with one openly racist parent and one quietly racist parent. The openly racist parent will NEVER grow to learn that this is abhorent behavior, but my other parent has grown in his view of the world. I truely believe he now believes that the only people that are below him are the ones who do nothing with the precious gift of life. These are the people that choose to live lives that do not contain growth, and include blaming others/society in general for their position in the scheme of things.

  6. We are white and have adopted 4 children of color. All I have to say is my experience with racism was nonexistent until I had my children. I am totally amazed at the hurtful, venemous, racist things said to my children on a nearly daily basis by ignorant white folk. It’s like they don’t even realize what they are doing until I point it out. Many have the good grace to act embarrassed when they are caught but holy jeez do they need to get caught to notice their racism?

  7. Its a sad state of our evolution that these things are STILL happening.
    Like you, i get struck dumb and cannot come back with a retort because of the shock. I come up with some good ones….when i get home.
    I have found though, when i cant verbally reply, writing down what has happened (as you have), helps put water on the fire that is burning inside if me.

  8. Last week, I was doing a relief shift at a day practice near my house. (I normally do emergency work.) A client said that he called his pet [insert name often given to people of Arabic descent] because he was a terrorist. I didn’t get it for a minute, and then I was like, um…I can’t believe someone just said that period, much less to a total stranger.

    And then I just got sad. I couldn’t say anything given the situation, but yeah…just sad.

    Also, my mother is quietly racist and doesn’t realize it, and sadly, so is my sister. My dad, though, he’s come a long way.

  9. Her bigotry is indeed sad. Not only for those she launches it upon but also herself and the bystanders caught in the fragment zone. t should be noted that there are many non whites who are equally guilty of such wasteful use of energy.

  10. During a recent visit, my dad made a comment about all people from the Middle East being terrorists. My husband and I had a little talk with him about tolerance and racial profiling – hopefully, we made a small difference. Thank you for your blog, Anne – it is wonderful!

  11. I just discovered this blog ( yeah, I am a bit slow)! Somehow you snuck the first month and a half by me. I have followed on twitter for a long time and frequently said to myself (because only I am crazy enough to actually listen to me.) “She is funnier than Wil”! I especially love the twitter conversations between you two.
    I am saving my pennies so I can get some googly eyes because somehow my lovely wife does not see them as a life necessity! On to comments related to blog content….. DA DADA DAAAAA!
    Sadly I, like most of us, have run into acts of bigotry on numerous occasions. Whether it be the casual use of the “N” word or threats or a generally superior attitude toward anyone different. My reaction is usually an incredulous “really man” or “Dude that’s just sad” usually resulting in the prejudiced party vigorously defending their attitude and me shaking my head knowing that it is next to impossible to change a lifetime of hatred and/or fear.
    After reading this post, I went back to the beginning and read all of Decembers posts. I wanted to comment on the New years eve party post but comments were closed. I thought it was a perfect story of life. I love seeing a person decide one thing only to have life laugh at them and say “Eff You, you are getting what I give you and you will like it, dammit!” Followed by that person giving in to the inevitable. The sad stories are when the person remains intractable and never accepts what life has to offer.
    Sorry this is so long. Don’t block me. I promise any future comments will be shorter. I would consider keeping comments open on past posts so those late discoverers can comment on a post that touches them.

    1. I didn’t know it closed the comments after a certain amount of time. Changing that now. Thanks for letting me know!

  12. Fortunately, I’ve never witnessed anything like that when it comes to race. However, I absolutely have seen similar versions when it comes to sexuality. That is one case where I can claim to having learned over the course of my life. When I was in school (I am gen X), homophobia was cool. It wasn’t that we hated on people that were gay, but we talked like we did. Eventually, I went out into the real world and met actual people who were gay…then I felt terrible and stopped talking that way.

    The thing that I don’t understand is why that doesn’t occur for these people. How can you be a racist, then meet numerous amazingly nice people from that race and not see that you are wrong? That has always seemed bizarre to me.

  13. I am Hispanic with dark skin and my kids vary in skin tone as they are mostly Caucasian. To teach them when they were little, I would use them as the example. ‘We don’t think Dylan isn’t as good just because his skin isn’t as dark as ours’… I don’t know when they first found out that the world doesn’t see it that way. Lol. My youngest, and a paler one, was fascinated and loved dark skin, the darker the more beautiful. He would stare and I had to tell people it was only because he thought their skin was so beautiful. He would just sigh and say I love her color. Sad that adults ruin that, isn’t it?

  14. This is such as sad thing to hear is still happening in even the more progressive parts of the US. I live in the UK and to hear this sort of thing openly in public is rare, probably due to the differences in history and culture. It’s not something I would stand for in the UK, as a Police Officer, I would be arresting someone right there and then if I heard the same thing verbatim. It simply not acceptable and needs to be seen as not acceptable by other members of the public.

  15. Don’t feel bad about not speaking up at the time, Anne.
    I know I’d have been hard pressed to come up with anything compelling to say to her in the heat of the moment. Hopefully she has people in her life who can help guide in the right direction.

  16. Anne,
    You were feeling sorry for the wrong person. I imagine the guy you spoke of has heard that type of stupidity before. He seemed to handle it as such. Think about the mouthpiece with her bigoted attitude and all of the lovely people that she will never meet just because they are not Caucasian. I am not a particularly religious person, but I believe in karma and that you reap what you sow Do your best to actively make the situation better, you can’t fix every asshole.

  17. Some of the worst behavior I’ve seen has been in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods parking lots, as if shoppers there were better than anyone else. Then again, I’ve also been the one white girl on the block in certain parts of Oakland, and for the first time got a taste of what it felt like to have everyone judging me by the color of my skin. It’s not pleasant. Racial profiling goes both ways, but sometimes I worry that the way other people see me might be more accurate than how I see myself.

    One thing my mother taught me is we are all at least a little bit racist. We’d like to think we’re not, but it’s there. It’s a sense of “otherness” that gives us a feeling of unease. I think it goes back thousands of years to where someone who was an outsider might be a potential threat. We may know better now, but there is still a lingering suspicion that is difficult to weed out of our collective psyche.

    1. I think the last comment needs to be challenged. Suggesting that “everyone is a little racist” is a really good get out of jail free card when it comes to people wanting to think racism is ok. I’m sure it’s very comforting when people can say that it’s normal to be a bit racist. Firstly, it’s completely inaccurate. Not everyone is a little bit racist or racist at all. Racism is a purely arbitrary and cultural phenomenon. Young children aren’t racist, they don’t care at all what the colour of another child’s skin is. Racism is a product of society and we have the power to stop it too.

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