Friday, July 18, 2014

"Those Mexicans"

A gate got left open last week and Bo, the Basset Hound, escaped.  A knock on the door alerted us to the issue as a woman who lives a few streets over had an inkling he belonged to us.  We visited for a bit in the street as I got Bo out of her van.  She was simply trying to be neighborly, to help us.  Because "those Mexicans drive so fast down that street and I was afraid they would hit him."

Ugh! Even though she didn't say "those Mexicans" with a disparaging tone, that phrase is heavy, one that reminds me of an old tire that has filled with water and sunk to the bottom of a farm pond.  The thoughtless discarding has created a bogged down, muddy, stinky mess that over time gets mired into the muck, slowly sinking into the silt of the pond bottom.  Do I think that this woman is racist?  While I admit I don't know her all that well, I would say it is highly unlikely she is a dyed in the wool racist.  It is much more likely that she has never had to consider her words or how they sound.     She has never thought about how annoyed she would be if a group of Hispanics described her peer group in similar terms, as "those white ladies who are always yelling at their kids" or "those white ladies who park funny in the Walmart parking lot."  (Or whatever irritating or irresponsible thing it is that we white ladies do.)  She has never thought about how hearing the phrase "those white ladies" once or twice might not be such a big deal but that by time number four or five or thirty three, you're kind of over it as the phrase starts to weigh on you.    (And that doesn't even cover the fact that there is a good chance "those Mexicans" are not even Mexican at all.  There's a good chance they are Guatemalan, Honduran, El Salvadorian, or horror of all horrors, simply plain old American.)

At the time, I didn't reply but repeated my thanks and took the dog inside.  Of course, I was thankful she brought him home.  But the whole conversation regarding "those Mexicans" left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  My three brown kids all heard her say those words.  My three brown babies all heard me ignore the comment, perhaps assuming that I didn't think it was that big of a deal or that I, as a white woman, was ignorant of the implications of the words.  Would I have ignored those comments if the woman had told me how she was concerned because "those black kids just drive too fast?"  

Her words left me in a quandary that I mulled over for the afternoon.  Does my silence equate agreement?  Does my silence allude to a color blind mom who is unaware of the complexities of race in our country?  In a perfect world, I perhaps would have pointed out the words the woman said, asked my kids how they felt about it, and then rectified all problems related to race in a neat three step plan that my children eagerly agreed to follow and then teach to others.  But I didn't.  While my kids do recognize race and while my two older kids have been pre taught a bit about slavery in anticipation of Lincoln's birthday and Martin Luther King Junior Day, I am not quite ready to have to point out the words of others.  I don't want to have to point out those words and have that conversation.  I just don't.  They're 7 and I'm just not ready.   

1 comment:

angelsmom said...

I have found myself in a similar quandary, though not about race... Just wondering whether it does more harm than good to point out the hurtful words of others. My child has limb differences like Zeke (bilateral above knee amputee.) When people make inappropriate comments, should I acknowledge that? But what if she didn't find it hurtful? Do I want to essentially teach her to be upset by alerting her that something "should" upset her? It is hard to know where to jump in and where to let your child lead the conversation...