Sunday, October 19, 2008

Racism: How Politics Can Bring Out Our True Colors

I am a liberal who lives in a conservative community. Don't ask. I'm here for the beach, not the people. Right now, our neighborhood is less sand and more of a sea of McCain/Palin yard signs.

Our home is barren of political banners not for fear of standing out but due to a lack of willingness to invest time in decorating anything. We don't decorate for Halloween, Chanukah or Christmas, why should we decorate for election season?

A neighbor I had already pegged as a racist from generalizations he has made about various ethnicities in passing, stopped me on my walk to inquire about our lack of patriotic décor and the conversation went something like this:

Racist neighbor: Did you forget to put up the Mccain/Palin sign that was left for you?

Me: No.

RN:: What are you a nigger lover?

Until now I had been walking while he was talking. Now I am stopped. I take a breath and ask my higher self for guidance in how to answer this assault. This is my first time outside in over a week as I'm recovering from Pneumonia. I am short on patience but want to deal with this effectively. So I turn to him and say…

Me: Define Nigger.

RN: You know what a nigger is. A blacky. That Muslim lovin' Osama Obama.

Me: You mean Senator Barack Obama who is half white and half black?

RN: His skin is black.

Me. Did you know that I am also ethnically mixed with black and white?

RN: No way! Really? I knew you weren't white but I thought maybe you were just Mexican, Greek or Armenian. I didn't think you had black in ya.

Me. Yup, I do.

RN: But you don't look it so it don't matter.

Me: What if I feel it?

RN: What? That don't make no sense. Anyway, how come your kid looks so white?

(My daughter looks nothing like me in coloring. People have gone so far as to ask if she is my biological child.)

ME: Have you ever taken a biology class? Do you know anything about recessive genes?

RN: So you gonna vote for him 'cause he's black?

ME: No. I am voting for him because he is a Democrat and he shares more of my values than the Republican candidate, his skin color like everyone else's, is irrelevant.

RN: I can't get over you having black in ya. I feel like I don't even know you at all.

ME: Funny. I feel like I know you perfectly.

I began to walk again. I knew if I continued to stand there I would burst into tears out of the frustration, sadness and embarrassment of this reflection of ignorance in the world I live in.

Life has taught me over and over again that I cannot change anyone or anything but myself; and I can only change my thoughts and actions, everything else is a result of collective evolution. I was not going to allow myself to retaliate with hateful thoughts. I had to elevate myself in thought quickly - find some immediate mental distraction.

I started visualizing myself as one of the dancers in the Zumba exercise commercials. Somehow seeing myself as lean, strong and glistening with sweat while shaking my body to repetitive music made me feel free from the constraints of racism I felt had just been shackled unto me. This was my new non partisan happy place.