My First Racist Comment?

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Today has been a comedy of errors. The kids’ school is closed for Columbus Day, so I figured they’d attend the full-day program they usually go to for school closures. We showed up at the school that hosted this program last year, and there was no one there. We went to the main YMCA office, and they said they knew nothing. I was on my way out the door when the woman I’d spoken to called me back, saying that they had a $5-an-hour program after all, but on-site at the main location, not out at a school. I enrolled the kids and paid. When I walked them over to the childcare location, the person there told me that the full-day program was only available on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I just handed her my receipt and asked her to arrange for reimbursement. I’d rather conserve my energy for my kids than spend it on bureaucracy. I called into work and let them know I wouldn’t be coming in.

The girls and I had a nice morning. It’s a rare rainy day in Texas, and we’re happy for our yard and the relief from our ongoing drought. The kids helped me cook oatmeal with raisins, apples and brown sugar for morning snack. We went to the local optician to have the broken nose piece on my glasses fixed. I managed to talk my 7-year-old twin girls, M and J, into trying an Indian restaurant for lunch. Misses Picky and Pickier (J and M, respectively) enjoyed their meals, which was a pleasant surprise after all the years of their rejecting all efforts on my part to introduce them to Bangladeshi cuisine.

While I was paying for our meal, I noticed a couple of women at a nearby table eating with a brood of kids. Included among the children were two infants who looked around the same age. I smiled at them and asked if the kids were twins, quickly adding that mine were, so I have a tendency to think I see twins everywhere. They said they weren’t, and I smiled and waved.

whaI quickly lost my smile when their friend, who had just emerged from the bathroom, grinned at me and said, “I guess all we white people look the same to you.”

I recognize that people unfamiliar with twins often have an unexamined assumptions that all twins are identical, so perhaps she thought I thought the babies looked alike. Really, though, I just noticed the babies’ ages. I’ve been known to ask if kids who look to be of different races are twins; after all, I have multi-racial children and know that the same two parents can have very different-looking kids.

MSJI’ve never encountered racism in the US. Never. I’ve been known to joke that people assume that I’m good at math because I’m “Indian” (actually, Bangladeshi), and that I am, in fact, good at math. In all seriousness, though, I really haven’t encountered racism beyond people mistaking me for my kids’ nanny since we don’t look to be the same race.

I was a South Asian in an Indian restaurant. Maybe I’ve avoided racially-tinged comments by avoiding being in “Indian” contexts. Perhaps this wasn’t a racist comment, as the woman insisted was true after I called her on it. Maybe she was “just jokey.” Perhaps I overreacted.

I went out to the car, buckled the girls in, and waited for them to get engrossed in their books because I allowed myself to cry. I guess there’s one good thing about the complete oblivion that overcomes J and M when they’re reading.

So, did I overreact? Is there a non-racist interpretation of this woman’s comment that I’m missing?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She was born and raised in the UK for her first 8 years, spent another decade of her childhood in Bangladesh, and moved to the US at age 18. She became a US citizen last month. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Sadia

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

6 thoughts on “My First Racist Comment?”

  1. I had that happen to me once in the emergency room, only it was from the doctor who was Chinese. I said, “I remember you, I’ve had you before.” She replied, “I don’t think so, all of us Chinese look the same to non Chinese.” I said, “No, I had you last summer.” I went on to explain the details and she then remembered me and showed by finishing the incident from the previous summer. It was really uncomfortable to me. I don’t know why people have to say such racist things, as if we all are and won’t mind. I the woman in the restaurant gets asked if they’re twins all the time :)

    1. The irony of your story is that, clearly all whatever-category-you-fall-in people must look the same to her. :( It wouldn’t bother me quite so much if she hadn’t appended “to you” to the end of her statement. In overthinking this, I read into it an implication that I must only spend time around people who look like me, and that’s the part I find truly racist. It’s not even so much racist against me as it is description of a world order of segregation as a norm.

  2. I’ve been stewing on this since I read it a couple of days ago. I think that was indeed a racist comment, but — sadly — I’m guessing the lady who said it didn’t recognize it as one.

    I am from the deep south, where convictions lie very, very deep. I try to be so acutely aware of my thoughts, and especially of how I present things to my girls. I think that racism is very insidious…people can think and say racist things without even realizing it…which is a big part of why I believe racism is still so prevalent today.

    Please know I don’t write this to excuse what was said to you. I’m very sorry for your experience, and it hurts my heart to read how it made you feel.

    I appreciate you sharing this. I think it’s these conversations that bring to light the insidious nature of racism, and I think it’s only through such dialogue that we can ever hope to bring about change in future generations.

    Did you talk about what happened with J&M? I’d love to know how that went.

    1. I agree. It is insidious… and minorities aren’t immune. The things I’ve heard my family members say about various groups of people is truly horrific. I try to point out how unhelpful their stereotypes are, but it’s an uphill battle.

      Fortunately, the girls were out of earshot, so we didn’t need to talk about it. We’ve talked about racism in a historical context, but I think I should probably start thinking about how to approach the current state of affairs with them.

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