During the Thanksgiving holiday, the Cadet came home. Her beau, a West Point grad, now in training to be a heavy armor platoon commander, and currently stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia, decided to fly in and join us.
Jeremy, the Second Lieutenant, is black. His mother is from Haiti (and a registered nurse) and his father is from Guyana (a general practicing doctor) and he grew up in the south. During his stay with us, we had the opportunity to discuss a variety of things… including race relations. It was, to be sure, not the dominant theme of our conversations, but it did come up.
One of the things Jeremy said I thought was interesting was his take on abstract versus intentional racism.
He fully acknowledged that, for the most part, intentional and blatant racism is rare and socially unacceptable. He has, however, experienced what could best be articulated as abstract racism (the greater scrutiny a security guard gives to him when he is casually shopping in a store, the looks he gets when he enters a restaurant, that sort of stuff).
I accepted what he was saying but, frankly, was somewhat internally dismissive. Sensitivity from past offenses may make us more susceptible to seeing egregious behavior where it really doesn’t exist.
Then I witnessed it myself.
During the recent storm this last Tuesday, I had to travel into Santa Ana. Artemis had been contracted to provide an active shooter presentation to a group of managers of a supermarket there. This market, for the most part, services almost exclusively the local Hispanic population. The managers are Hispanic and, as it happens to be, were mostly women.
They were extremely attentive during the presentation as rain and wind buffeted the building from the outside. One of them told me I was the first “white person” (more specifically, a “white person in a suit”) that gave them a training presentation without belittling them and talking down to them. They wanted to know if I was Catholic.
I chuckled and told them no. I was putatively Jewish, and depending on whom you talked to, I either was or was not a “white person”. I did want to know what I did or said that was so different from their other presenters.
They told me that when corporate sends in a presenter, the presenter treats them like imbeciles. They naturally assume they don’t speak English. They speak slowly and use juvenile language. I, on the other hand, spoke to them like they were adults and used “big words” without being self-conscious about it.
I thanked them, but told them that I treat everyone the same. Sometimes my students (and readers of this blog) chastise me for using academic language.
Everyone should strive for intellectual improvement. Language helps facilitate that. The fact they were Hispanic, and probably not native English speakers, never entered into my thought process.
(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)
The storm Tuesday caused us to cancel Range Day with Steven (and sometimes Sandy) and gave me an entire day with zero commitments. Sandy saw that as a perfect opportunity to help her get the Christmas shopping completed. So, off we went to the mall, checking off the Christmas shopping list all day Wednesday.
Coincidentally, Governor Newsom decided that Wednesday would be a perfect day to launch a new statewide mandate on indoor mask wearing to celebrate the Omicron Variant of Covid 19.
(Note: As of this writing, there is a grand total of two people who have died on this planet from the Omicron Variant, one in Africa and one in the UK. Still, states need federal funding to fill their coffers and this is a perfect excuse to continue the gravy train.)
Sandy and I parked her car in the parking structure of South Coast Plaza and made our way into the mall. We had our face diapers at the ready in our coat pockets.
“I’m not wearing this thing unless I am specifically told to do so,” she said as we crossed the parking lot.
“I got your back, Kemosabe.”
As we entered the mall, I told her my first order of business was finding a bathroom. I had personal business that needed to be attended to immediately.
We found the restroom and I left Sandy holding up one of the walls that lead into the hallway towards the bathrooms as I went in to do my thing.
As I came out (not wearing my mask… after all, Sandy and I were soldiers fighting tyranny today!), I saw her standing there waiting for me with her mask dangling from one ear.
“I think I was just racially profiled!” she said to me, loud enough for everyone to hear.
She pointed to a 20-something Hispanic security guard in his ill-fitting uniform who was standing ten or 15 feet away wearing a white mask that matched his polyester shirt. He looked decidedly uncomfortable.
“I was standing here waiting for you, watching all of the other shoppers walk by. A bunch of them were not wearing masks. He ignored all of them, and came up to me and told me I have to put my mask on! The other unmasked people were White or Hispanic. He didn’t even look at them, and instead targeted me… the one Asian! Then he targeted another Asian who wasn’t wearing a mask, too!”
She paused and I could see the gears in her head turning.
“I’m going to talk to him.”
“Are you serious?”
Before I even finished my question, she had already turned around and was walking up to the security guard.
“Why did you target me?” she asked.
“Im telling everyone to put a mask on,” he said looking past her.
“No, you are not!”
“I tell everyone.”
(Well… everyone except me evidently… As Sandy launched into him, I stood there with my glorious face exposed to the world. He never instructed me to cover my visage.)
“Ma’am, I tell everyone.”
She demanded to speak with his supervisor.
“Ma’am, I tell everyone,” he repeated again, this time more sheepishly.
“No, you didn’t! I watched you ignore the others! What was it about me that caused you to come up to me?”
“Can I help you?”
The security guard’s “supervisor” approached (a young kid in the same ill-fitting uniform, wearing a version of SGT stripes).
“Your security guard is profiling.”
“Ma’am, we tell everyone to put a mask on.”
(I rubbed my chin quizzically, still waiting for my admonishment to mask up. Sadly, it never came.)
The SGT began a rehearsed spiel about mask mandates and local ordinances. During this time the original security guard stood at his post and watched other shoppers walk by, trying to ignore the dialogue between the SGT and Sandy.
As the SGT spoke, I watched as a group of Hispanic women in their mid-fifties trotted by us and the first security guard. They were completely unmasked. The security guard watched them silently as they strode past.
Then came a husband and wife, both Caucasian, who sauntered on by, both unmasked.
A few masked shoppers crossed in the other direction.
Then an Asian couple approached. The guy looked to be in his twenties and his partner, a female who was strikingly attractive with bleached blond hair, walked past.
Both were umasked.
The original security guard sprung into action, walked up to the blond Asian, and chastised her for not wearing her
I interrupted the SGT.
“Holy shit! Did you see what your employee just did?”
“He just let seven or eight non-Asians go by without a mask, but when the blond Asian went by, he suddenly became motivated to make contact.”
“Sir, we treat everyone here the same.”
“Bullshit!” Sandy interjected.
Sandy grabbed my arm.
“I am done with this place. We don’t need to put up with this crap.”
With that, we turned and left the mall.
These silly rules… these dangerously stupid and silly rules… they do not bring out the best in us, quite the contrary. They allow for the tyrannical, and, yes… at times… racially-biased impulses of others manifest.
“I can’t understand why he did that,” Sandy said as we pulled out of the parking structure on our way to the Irvine Spectrum.
“Probably because it gave him an opportunity to talk to Asian women?”
She chuckled… well… I hadn’t thought of that… perhaps. Most likely, though, it is his experience. Asians generally will do what they are told. If he went up to a group of Hispanic women, they would have read him the riot act.
“Asians do what they are told?”
Yeah… well… some do… Sorry, Steven, not this one though!