Pass the Racism, Please

The past 5 days have been a whirlwind of family, friends, and food. Some of these I can handle more than others.

Thanksgiving, I went to a cousin’s house. I’ll admit I was a little nervous. You see, my family doesn’t discuss politics, but I’m certain they see me as the bleeding heart, feminist, man-hating, tofu eating, scary lesbian liberal. Most of the time, I’m positive we all don’t care and just have a good time together. But a dreaded thing happened. A thing that I didn’t want to think could possibly happen.

My family cusses a lot, so I reminded them to tone down the cussing around Cyrus. They did their best. It was time to eat, so I got up to go into the kitchen. It happened so fast. I walked in, heard someone say,  “we should go to Ferguson tonight.” and then another cousin said, “So we can go coon hunting?”

As he said this, I saw that he saw me, and so, put his hand over his mouth and tucked his head as if he was in trouble. He smiled.

I said, “You’re fucking kidding me,” and walked out of the room.

The only thing I heard next was laughter because I’d asked them not to curse and then said fuck. They thought it was hilarious.

My face was red. I was hot. I envisioned gathering up Cyrus and leaving.

Everyone wanted to know what happened, why I was so mad. I couldn’t believe no one heard. To me, it was shouted. It was the loudest thing. It’s still ringing in my ears. I didn’t make it into a huge announcement because there were kids in the room. I walked outside for a minute.

When I was finally able to explain what had happened, someone said, “Well, sometimes you just need to ignore him.”  NO, I said. Ignoring it just perpetuates these problems.

So, there you have it.

Why did my cousin say that? Was it one of these or a combination? Was it something else?

1. He wanted to impress the older men in the room, assuming they’d be into a joke like that.

2. He really feels that way.

3. He’s young and thinks those jokes are funny.

4. It’s what his friends say.

5. He was giving voice to something all the white, country men in the room were thinking.

As you all know, I grew up in a small, small white farming town. I’ve heard this kind of stuff my whole life. It’s one of the reasons I cringe when I drive back into town. I grew up around the N word and black jokes. Faggot was a favorite insult when I was little, too. I’ve seen and heard discrimination and hate. I try not to assume that just because my family is from a place like this that they think racist thoughts. I mean, I’ve spent years convincing myself that things have changed. But. It’s bullshit. Total bullshit.

I know this isn’t a well written blog. I just wanted you to know. And I want to tell you, in case you ever questioned it, racist language is alive and well in our country. It’s at intimate family gatherings and in the media.

So, what do we do?  Say something.  Just fucking say something. Don’t let those jokes go. Don’t just ignore that guy in the room because he’s your relative. Make a scene. Make sure everyone knows it’s not okay.

I want everyone to share their holiday racism stories. I want everyone to see how much it happens.

And then I want us to stop it.

Sexual Assault: I Finally Get All Feminist on My Ass

Gentle reader, this weekend I traveled to Chicago to watch rugby. It was a huge deal. The seats were full of screaming rugby fans. And they cheered for both teams. I did, too. I cheered for rugby. It was an amazing experience; rugby players were all over the streets and in the bars that night. It was incredibly beautiful.

But I’m not ready to write about that part because, you see, one asshole ruined that for me. And yes, I’m still giving him the power to ruin it as I write.

It happened like this: The game was over and a small group of my friends was wandering trying to find a way out of the stadium or a taxi or anything to get to where we wanted to go. At some point we stopped to discuss what to do when I felt a slap on my ass. Now. It wouldn’t be unsual for one of my friends to do this, but something about the way it felt told me it was a stranger. Besides, they were all in front of me. So I see, out of the corner of my eye, some dude walking away.

I grabbed him by his collar, started pushing him,  and said, “If you’re going to slap my ass, at least take us on your fancy bus.”  (His friends were boarding a small, private shuttle.)  He tried to put his arm around me, and I hit it away and repeated that we wanted a ride. “Where are you going?” I asked. He tried to grab me again, around my shoulder, “Home,” he said. I pushed him and said “Fuck you” and then went back to my friends. I overheard his friend say, “Wow. You’re really good at making friends.”  And it was over.

But, you know, it’s still not over.

For the next two hours I wasn’t fun to be around. I kept replaying the whole thing in my head. Why didn’t I just fucking punch him? I could’ve just tackled him. Seriously. I was even with 5 of my rugby teammates. Why was my gut reaction to try to get something from him in exchange for that ass slap? Why didn’t his friends grab him immediately and tell him that wasn’t cool? Why did they laugh as I pushed him and yelled in his face? Of all the groups of women who are bothered, shouldn’t my group of rugby players be the one to teach him a lesson? Why didn’t we?

I want to tell you that not many years ago, I probably would’ve turned around and called him an asshole or just said something sarcastic. If I heard someone telling me this same story, I’d probably tell her it sucks, of course, but she’s over reacting. Worse things happen in the world. However, things have changed for me recently, though. With all the discussion of America’s rape culture, I want to be part of a solution. I am aware that an ass slap is much more than that; it’s a symbol of everything that comes next.

I hate myself that I didn’t just hit him right in his fucking face. I keep thinking, you know, I’m socialized, as a woman, to smooth things over and just deal with it.

So, I decided to share this information with one of my classes today. I thought it was fitting with the elections and issues, and college campuses having higher than ever sexual assault reports.  I told my students the whole story, in my most serious voice, and told them how rarely this happens to me, but when it does…. And one guy says, “Yeah, Ms. H. every time I get slapped on the ass, I just turn around and…” I cut him off. “No. This is not funny, Student, This is exactly the problem.”

Most of the girls in the class had little to say about the situation. One said she was proud of me for not hitting him. I asked, you know, how can a woman react so that a man knows he’s really done something incredibly terrible?  No one knew. I suggested, again, that if I would’ve just fucking laid him out… One male student said he agreed. That if I just beat the shit out of him, he might think twice next time.

Think twice. The assumption he’d even think about it again.

I’m now remembering about three months ago I was out dancing with friends. I danced a minute or two with this guy. When he turned to leave, he reached out his hand and stroked my crotch. In just one, quick swoop. My reaction, as always. Shock. Then he disappeared in a crowd. Again, that guy needs a good kick to the throat, too. But what I remember is the way he looked. There was this smile on his face.

Like he’d given me a gift.