The Most Racist Things I’ve Done

March 1, 2014

In keeping up with the media feeding frenzy on racially charged stories, and if nothing else, to get a few things off my chest, I want to share some stories with the Internet. Whether this reaches a larger audience than my usual readers and ignites a storm of hate-filled comments and alienation from acquaintances, I don’t care. I did these things. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes unknowingly.

I wish I could say I could remember if these events ever stemmed from true hate, but truthfully, I don’t think they did. I’ve hated many people in my life, but I can’t recall ever doing so because of the color of their skin or their culture.

“You are so Kelly Kapoor right now”

I knew it was wrong before the words had even finished escaping my lips. I was meeting a Couchsurfer on Haeundae Beach in Busan so she wouldn’t have to walk all the way back to her apartment. She had accepted my request to stay for two nights, and before we could even get to know each other, not even within a half hour of meeting, I had the gall to say that right to her face.

Of course, she was Indian, and I had just finished a day of binge watching The Office. But that’s no excuse for my behavior. I was so ashamed of what I had said I did everything but address what happened and apologize (something I really, really should have done) for the remainder of my stay: buy her dinner, be extra considerate leaving her place, and write her a glowing reference. She didn’t write one back, but had done so for every other surfer before and after my stay. I knew the reason.

“Heil Hitler”

I honestly planned to take this one to my grave. I know I was just a kid, but it remains one of my worst memories, and something for which I’m eternally grateful there were not camera phones around when I was in high school; if that video were to have surfaced without my foreknowledge, suicide might have been an option with such negative reactions imminent.

History class, 10th grade. I was seventeen years old. We had ways of distracting our teacher before the start of class to ensure we didn’t have to dig into that boring textbook one second too soon. This time, we got onto the topic of foreign languages, and he asked if anyone knew German. One or two of us tossed out “hello” or something simple.

I wanted to stand out. I wanted to be the one who knew German. Unfortunately, I knew none. So, without any thought whatsoever, I raised my hand in the familiar pose we’ve seen in so many movies and superficially gave homage to the Reich. As you might expect for a teacher in a liberal school with a large Jewish population, he didn’t know how to react. The man just stuttered something like “Why did you say that…?” and left it at that. No one else said a word.

“Chicken wings!”

I was quoting South Park to an African-American friend of mine after a long day of pulling weeds and cutting down barberry bushes. He and I had been working closely for weeks, so he may have given me the benefit of the doubt. We were both exhausted, ready to collapse, and desperately needed some food. When he sighed and said in such a voice reminiscent to Cartman (in my mind, anyway) “I need foooood,” I immediately recalled the scene in Rainforest Schmainforest and exclaimed: “Chicken wings!”

I didn’t even think it was wrong until he said “HEY!” and gave me a funny look. Then I had to do a double take and remember the stereotype of African Americans and fried chicken. Fortunately, I don’t think he ever would have believed I would knowingly make a racial slur like that. We both knew South Park and would often just toss random quotes from movies and Family Guy out there:

I was the kind of kid who couldn’t even bring himself to swear until it was part of my lines in a play. I couldn’t say “whore” when we read Oedipus Rex in class. I even recoiled when the n-word was used in Huckleberry Finn. Obviously, I’m not as innocent as I once was, but saying words like that, those that demean women, target minorities, and do nothing but serve as instruments of hate (my own opinion of swearing, anyway), even thinking them, still makes me feel sick.

Obviously, the world is not as black and white as identifying racists and sexists by their use of language. But perception is everything. And until that changes, I’m not going to repeat mistakes like these. Awareness is the first step.

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One Response to The Most Racist Things I’ve Done

  1. Earl Goodson on March 1, 2014 at 5:38 am

    Not a single one of these things smacks of true hatred. We all say things that in retrospect look downright ignorant and fly in the face of who we want to present. It happens…No big deal, we’ve all done it. You’re not here justifying any sort of “these people are like this” ideas, so I think you’re in the clear :c)

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