Friday, November 28

Who are these people?
My family has this uncanny ability to alienate me more and more every year. Cliche, but true. I have heard a total of four racist jokes within 48 hours. Want to hear one? It's a real gem. The first time I heard it, it was told to me and my father (who laughed) by a 14-year-old.

So there's this airplane, right, and it's loaded down with too much stuff up there in the air. So the pilot dumps all the cargo, but even that doesn't do the trick. They've got to start dumping passengers, and they're gonna do it alphabetically by ethnicity. So the pilot announces for all the African Americans to stand up. No one does. They call for the blacks. No one. Then the coloreds. No one. A little black boy turns to his dad and says, "But dad, I thought we were colored." The dad says, "Today we're niggers, son, so the Mexicans will have to go first."

The second time this hootin' piece of work fell upon my ears it was told by a 9-year-old. A NINE YEAR OLD. And his dad, my dad, my grandmother, and my aunt all whooped it up like Chris Farley had executed an amazing prat fall in our living room. Noticing my scowl, my grandmother tried to explain the joke to me as if I didn't get it. "See? The blacks want to be called African American until their ass is on the line! Get it?"

I swallowed the rising chunks in my throat and told them to chill out -- that I didn't have to laugh at a racist joke to make a 9-year-old feel good about his joke-telling ability. Then I silently pitied the future ... hard.

Of course, this episode was just one in a series of uncomfortable moments. My brother calls everything he deems bad or weird "gay." (I will admit that I did this briefly in high school without realizing the ramifications of the words exiting my mouth. We didn't really mean anything by it, though it was still hurtful to many people, and for that I am sorry.) But he also peppers his conversation with the word "queer," and he doesn't mean it in the way that I would use it when speaking of queer theory and things of that nature. He and my dad point out every "queer" they see on television, just to make sure everyone in the room knows where to direct their hatred.

And while watching "What Not to Wear," a Spanish family evoked their ire once again. "Go back where you came from!" my brother commanded. I was like, "Umm... Chicago? OK."

But my dad saw fit to complain about a Spanish ad for Shoe Carnival he heard on the radio, demanding that it be taken off the air because it offended his ears. I tried to appeal to him by reminding him that it's just marketing -- that Shoe Carnival has every right to advertise to Spanish-speaking customers. Plus that whole First Amendment thing. But he insisted that if they come to America they should speak American. Yeah, he said American. He said if he goes over to France he would be expected to speak French. I said, "Sure, but everything is France is subtitled in English, because English-speaking persons are stubborn and unwilling to learn French." He said, "Well, they do that to sell stuff." I said, "Hence, Shoe Carnival' Spanish ads." Ooooh....point goes to me.

I love my family as much as I possibly can, but sometimes their opinions betray their intelligence. I know my father is smarter than the causes he champions. I just can't understand what people have done to him to make him so hateful and judgmental. And I see my brother mirroring this behavior and feel like all hope is lost. And, of course, my 9-year-old cousin is swimming in ignorance in his house, so I don't hold much hope for him. I try to help and be constructive when I can, but I have been marginalized in my family and am a sloppy, bleeding-heart liberal in their eyes. They all think I'm this weird and uppity smarty pants. They swear I'll tighten up when I get older. I think they're all crazy and bitter and destined for a life of solitude and fear in their older days, when white men are the minority in this country.

The only fluid and unlabored conversations I have are with my 5- and 7-year-old nephews. Casey (7) is painfully bright and needs so much affirmation and encouragement. He loves to read and, right now, wants to be an artist. He uses large words and has a penchant for technicalities. My family tells me he reminds them of me. Should I warn them about his upcoming turbulent blue period? And Patrick (5) has the most random and absurd sense of humor -- he's a total ham with an introspective, eccentric streak that surfaces now and again. He loves to laugh and make silly jokes and tonight he headbutted the crap out of Phil when he didn't expect it. As a large knot was swelling on his forehead, all Patrick could do was laugh and make fun of Phil for saying ouch. But sometimes he'll just refuse to talk or interact with you, when he's got things on his mind. He just shuts down. No one knows why.

Sometimes I wish I could do that. Heh. Or bark like a dog, like Brenda in "Six Feet Under." More happy holiday fun time to come tomorrow.

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