31 January 2022

Racism of the 'Special' Variety

 They always enter through the backdoor, off the alleyway that runs between Main Street and the next street to the east, that’s been revamped to be a pedestrian-friendly, wannabe-indie-type walking path that stretches the entirety of the 100k-town’s “Downtown.” She, an obvious ethnic minority of some sort (even with hat, sunglasses and double-masked face), he, some urban white guy (not from around here), they make up one of two (known) interracial couples that are recognized (&or confused for each other or are perceived as being only one interracial couple of the asian/white variety, throughout the town by various white and latin locals). Smells of a well-stocked spice cabinet mixed with a tinge of all-natural soap (if you don’t know this particular scent, it is the scent, in my mind, of camping) blasts her through her masks as she follows him through the dated metal-rimmed, glass backdoors. Under the weight of her body’s pressure, the all-natural, light-wood floor creaks.

They pass bulk bins of pet food and pet-related goods on their right, an opening to some backroom storage and an area, perhaps, for employees on their left, a white woman pumps all-natural soap into a byob container from a large (extra large) wood barrel. As she makes her way to the dried fruit area, she passes another white woman scooping spices from the bulk jars. She stops to take a gander at the bulk dispensers dispensing chocolates, and decides to stick to the plan. 

A small eco-friendly brown paper bag is filled with dried mangoes; she writes the number of the item on the bag with a shitty blue ballpoint pen. Another small eco-friendly brown paper bag is filled with dried dates, and another number is scribbled on the outside. A third and final bag is filled with an assortment of rice crackers, number scribbled. Her bodybuddy/lifemate peruses the spices, and then they are ready to pay. “Six dollars and three cents,” (the change borrowed from her bodybuddy/lifemate) the young white male cashier states. “Would you like a receipt?” the cashier asks. “Yes, please,” she requests. After a mess-making pump from an enthusiastic pump of all-natural hand sanitizer, they make their way out the front door, only to be accosted by an aged white woman who stops them to sell them a product not yet shelvable. 

She had seen the old lady out the front window while filling her bags with treats, and had already decided that she was not going to participate in whatever this old lady was sampling. Nevertheless, as she exited through the front doors, the old lady shouted at her, “I’m sorry if this is ignorant, but do you celebrate Chinese New Year?” And as this old lady is saying this, she rounds the table toward the obviously ethnic minority and nearly attempts to reach out and grab onto the ethnic minority’s arm as the ethnic minority subtly shifts herself away from the old lady and takes a step back from the table. She didn’t know exactly what to say so she spoke the truth after a little giggle, “We celebrate when we’re in Korea, but not here when we’re in the States.” And then this old lady’s wheels really begin to churn. You can see it in her face, and you can hear it in the way she struggles through her little spiel about how old her business is, what she’s trying to do, etc., etc., etc.

“So, what I have here is one-hundred percent vegan energy,” the old lady goes on about the variety of flavors she’s created and that the obviously ethnic minority placates. When the old lady is done going over her everyday varieties, she then looks directly at the obviously ethnic minority and says, “But I have something really special just for you. It’s my Chinese New Year specialty.” 

At this point, the obviously ethnic minority is thinking a few things, firstly, Does this old lady think I’m Chinese?, and secondly, Does this old lady not know that it’s called Lunar New Year and that many other countries and cultures celebrate Lunar New Year? She had to strongly consider whether or not to take it upon herself to educate this ignorant old white lady.

Finally, the old lady makes her Chinese New Year vegan energy pitch, “It’s got honey, ginger, spiced [something or other], and wait for it, goji berries!” The old white lady waits for the obviously ethnic minority to react, but the obviously ethnic minority has absolutely no relationship with whatever excitement the old white lady felt about these particular ingredients. Goji berries? Do they have some sort of significance in Chinese culture? Who knows, she’s Korean. 

And then, the old white lady explains, “I would love for you to try it and give me your specific feedback on this special Chinese New Year recipe.” Ignoring the white man accompanying the obviously ethnic minority, “Here’s a sample. I would love your thoughts.” 

“I’ll pass,” the obviously ethnic minority kindly responds, holding out her right hand as if to physically stop this old white lady, using every ounce of her willpower to not say thank you, going against every fiber in her body that makes her the friendly, respectful American citizen that she is. Without another word, they depart. Once out of earshot of the old white lady, she finally asks her white bodybuddy/lifemate, “What the hell? Some help you were back there.” To which he responds, “She never acknowledged my existence except to look at me as if pleading with me to help her. No fucking way. That racist old white lady needed to struggle, and I wanted to watch her squirm.” 

        As they make their way off Main Street toward their destination, the Public Library, they laugh and chat about that crazy old white lady, wondering if that crazy old white lady even knows that she’s a racist.   

[end story]

Notes & Errata

This is a true story. This is a work of creative nonfiction, and as such, the events of this story are absolutely true. The saddest part, to me, is that I wrote out a first draft, obviously, and then proofread the thing. I do little to no editing on my writing, in general, because it’s not really my style, which is not to say that I’m a lazy writer (but it sorta is) so much as I identify as an artist (as opposed to a writer) whose favorite medium or medium of choice is words. My point being that as I proofread this thing, I noticed that I switched into the past tense during the most wrought parts of interacting with that racist old white lady. It made me wonder what’s going on inside me, psychologically, when I write about my experiences with racist old white ladies. I was raised by one. Thusly, I imagine that the particular psychological gymnastics my mind does and uses to cope with racist old white ladies is not something about which I ought to take lightly, I think. I suppose this is something I should raise with a therapist. Thanks for reading *peace*