I heard two of my step-nieces and one of their friends, all ages 12 to 15, telling blonde jokes, gay jokes, and racial jokes. I was stunned. This behavior from such a young generation was deflating. I tried to point to the error of their ways. But, the 12 year old boy responded to my pleas by saying, “Well, it wouldn’t be racist of me to say Brazilians are good soccer players, because they are.” I rebutted, yes actually rebutted to a 12 year old, “But that is stereotypical and racist because it is not true all Brazilians are good soccer players, that is what is called a ‘sweeping generalization.”‘ Ugh, my words bombed and he gave me the “you are so un-cool look.” And, the jokes continued.
I interrupted their banter and said, “Wait, let me relay to you a story that will show you what is wrong about the jokes you are telling.” They actually stopped talking and gave me their listening-faces. I began, “A man named John used to work for my grandmother. John was a black man and I thought he was wonderful. He was sweet to me, always. I felt comfortable around him, which was a relief because I felt out of place around my Dad and his family when I was young. During a holiday dinner, when I was 11, the family was drinking and telling stories and jokes. I told a racist joke and after the punch-line, my prankster uncle who was sitting across the table from me, looked over my shoulder, raised his waving hand, and cheerfully gruffed ‘Hey John!’ I thought I would die, sink into one heavy pile of shame and guilt and create a stain on that chair which could never be removed. As I turned around and processed the light-hearted laughter I realized John wasn’t there, my uncle was joking. His joke proved to be the most embarrassing and long-lasting lesson of my life. I realized even though John wasn’t there, I was putting words into the universe which were wrong, unfair, and hurtful.”
As I told this to the kids the face of my younger step-niece became contorted, as if she was sitting in my chair twenty years ago. I felt she understood. This story is a personal shame to me and that is why I am writing it. Racisim and bigotry is an everday occurrence in some families and yet left a mark on me which I shall share until every listener’s face is contorted.
I believe we should fight racism and bigotry. We should fight it by exposing our own ugly, visceral truths. Racism and bigotry cannot be fought by tossing intellectual stones from our own ivory towers. It cannot be won until we mingle with our own evils, tell of them, and inhibit future generations from making the mistakes of so many of our ancestors. This I believe.