A man at a bar called me a “dirty spic” this weekend.
Earlier this week, I was hanging out with some brown folk and a friend dropped in on us. “Who invited the white girl?” someone asked when my friend C went to go get herself a drink. Everyone at the table laughed.
This weekend, at the bar, when the man said that, I considered hitting him. I’m 5’3″ (with shoes on), I’m not a very big person. I have never actually punched someone. I debated whether or not to slap him. I settled with just yelling at him.
The guy was drunk. And he was clearly just being mean for the sake of mean. He almost got beat up at least two other times that evening. People pulled him away and took him outside. He continued making a scene outside.
He wore a Confederate Tshirt.
(The shirt doesn’t offend me. The guy wearing it did.)
In the car, on my way home, I kept trying to make sense of my anger. The man was not talking to me directly, he didn’t know me, in fact, he was just responding to his own ignorance.
“Calm down, Ese,” my friend had said when Confederate was about to fight another guy.
“Don’t call me an a**hole,” Confederate said back.
“I didn’t. I said ‘Ese,’ dude.”
“I’m not a f**king spic.”
And that’s when I got mad. “I’m a spic! What of it?”
“Shut up, you dirty spic.”
I am not angry, I told Brad in the car. I am not angry at this ignorant sad man. I am ashamed that I got so upset in the moment. I let those words have power. I let those words cinch my throat. I let this violent language in. I was complicit to his language.
It’s hard not to let that affect you.
“Who invited the white girl?” my friends had said earlier in the week. I raised my hand slowly. “I guess I did.”
And everyone laughed.
Stephen Colbert says he doesn’t see color. I don’t think I do either, I don’t define myself primarily against whiteness. I am not not white, but I’m not white. It’s complicated. But as I explained the comment to my White US American boyfriend Pete on the phone this morning, I couldn’t help but say “you don’t understand” when he compared the situation to bullying and name-calling. It’s not just name-calling. It’s reinforcing systematic and institutionalized racism. It’s delineating the difference between me and you; outlining that subconsciously, you are better, but you’re better because your skin color and your race.
I believe that we live in a world with publicly unacknowledged castes, I think socio-economics and race have privileged some and not others. But I do not think that privilege enables superiority. I think that those with privilege should use it to the betterment of others. You can’t really believe that you’re superior to someone else because they come from a different place than you. It’s just too arbitrary to actually warrant truth.
“I’m not a f**king spic,” the man said.
“Who invited the white girl,” they said.
I need to escape this dichotomy. This oppressor-oppressed either-here-or-there thing. I don’t want to be trapped in a Nietzschean cycle of being master or slave. I want to say, “just be.” But we define ourselves as victims.
“You just don’t understand,” I said to Pete on the phone. “You just don’t understand,” I said to Brad in the car. I have been victim tonight, I have been hurt by this man’s words. Why do I think they cannot understand? Because they’re not “spics”?
Yet, yet it was the “white girl,” that same girl from the earlier incident, C, who stormed into the bar to confront the man in the Confederate tshirt. She’s the one who stood up and thought it was worth extracting an apology. I held her back, I told her there was no need for violence, and provoking a violent man is provoking violence. I told her that we should just walk away. And she did. But I noticed that while C stormed in, Brad, my friend, and the other Rockabilly boys outside just watched the thing unfold. No one said anything. No one told Confederate he was ignorant and racist. No one tried to make him apologize.
That’s all I wanted really. Didn’t actually think I could take him in a fight. Didn’t actually think anyone should have.
Although, it was Rockabilly night at the bar. I’m sure his hair was flammable.
I always carry a lighter, you know.