Monday, July 2, 2007

Saturday night's all right for offending

Saturday night, my roommate and I ventured over the river to the Middle East to see my friend Rob perform with his old band, Pure Fiction. We were pretty psyched because A. we dig Rob and B. anything breaking out of the "let's see how drunk we can get" weekend cycle is always welcomed.

We often talk of wanting to do new things, but in the end the lack of cover charge and transportation obstacles keep us at or near home. Karen isn't as used to this because she has a car and is usually willing to drive and attempt to park; I don't even have a car and the thought of trying to park makes me feel like I have ants in my pants. Literally - it makes me jittery, anticipating driving around the block for 20 minutes when we're probably already late because we hit traffic on Storrow. Score one for optimism. Anyway, Karen is selling her car next weekend, so this was good practice for what her life will be like as dictated by public transportation schedules. I don't think she was a huge fan - it took us an hour by bus to get somewhere a car could have brought us in about 15 to 20 minutes.

As we got off the bus in Central Square, a young-ish man, probably in his mid-twenties, held out both his arms as though to bear hug us and said, "Laaaadiiieeeeeees." I know this spiel already. I get it every day in Back Bay, from college kids or underemployed recent graduates who are still naive enough to think they can pay rent in Boston without having some sort of crappy office job. They answer ads that promise them $600 a week, and enjoying their summer, and helping the environment - really what they are doing is the emotional equivalent of standing on a street corner in a hot dog suit. I have done jobs like this before, and they are horrible and humiliating and the entire time you're doing it you feel like a sucker for having believed the ad in the first place. But you smile and harass people because you have to eat. I get it. What I don't get is how on earth these kids justify being so rude when they do it.

I dislike being approached by a stranger as though I am his/her best friend. It makes me wary immediately - why do you want me to trust you right away? Why do you want me to feel chummy toward you so soon? Is it because you're going to reach for my wallet? Not sure where this paranoia came from: city living, growing up with a conservative veteran father who was (and is) convinced that the world is out to get him and his family, or my own neuroses. At any rate, I dislike the approach some of these people take, and I've noticed Greenpeace and Oxfam are the very worst of the bunch. They approach with the bear hug stance, which I happen to find sort of threatening, or they say some horrible thing akin to the slimy sayings of a washed-up lounge pianist. "Now there are some environmentalists!" "I know you want to save the world today!" Blech. The more aggressive the person, the more angry my glare. So when I stepped off a bus and was immediately accosted, one can imagine I was less than thrilled. I didn't much bother with a glare, but rather walked well out of touching range of the bear-hugging hippie, and up the street toward my destination. Polite enough, I thought. And apparently racist.

Bear-hug said as I passed by him, "Ooooohhh someone's scared of black guys." And as I kept walking without looking back he started yelling at me about how scared I was of black people, and how racist I was.

Seriously?

I don't dislike you because you're black. I dislike you because you are an aggressive hippie, who should probably have gotten an internship this summer instead of this crappy job because I hate to break it to you, but harassing people for Oxfam doesn't look as good on your resume as you think it will. And now I dislike you because you are screaming judgments at me as I walk down the street. I wish he was wearing an easily identifiable logo, or that I had looked for one, because I really want to contact some organization and just let them have it. Based on my past experiences, I'm guessing it's some kind of environmental group. I want to find CFCs and release them into the air; I want to eat lots of steak and fill the atmosphere with cow farts; I want to find a copy of Al Gore's Powerpoint and stomp on it. I want to, in fact, do the complete opposite of what this guy was hired to ask me to do. And I want to do it because he's such a jerk.

What makes people think this is ok? Did he think I would come back and argue with him? The tricky thing about racism is that you can't prove you're not racist any other way than to just not be a racist. To try to explain it in words makes you sound like a jackhole. "My best friend is black." "I dated black guys in high school." "My mom's best friend was black and she practically raised me." I wasn't about to give him any more fodder. And what if the situation was reversed? What if he was white and I was black? Would he have even thought to call me racist? Would he have dared?

My dad is retired Army. My mother is a teacher who can't work because she's been declared Too Crazy to Work by the State of Pennsylvania. Although my parents struggled on and off welfare until I was a toddler, I don't remember life being particularly uncomfortable or comfortable. We were what I consider the average American blue collar family. We drove to our vacation destinations because we couldn't afford to fly. My school clothes were from KMart. When I got older and wanted something over $100 or so, my parents would agree to split the cost with me. I earned the money and paid for half of my class ring, prom dress, field hockey stick, and my senior class trip. Now I live paycheck to paycheck and am wondering if I can use some excess grad school loans to pay off some of what I owe on my undergrad loans.

Given all of these things, I can barely express in words how frustrated and furious it makes me when, simply because I am a white female, it is assumed I am also rich, racist, and all the horrible attributes that accompany the Beacon Hill socialite sterotype. To consider that someone would feel comfortable making these assumptions aloud makes me absolutely enraged. And to realize that there isn't anything I can do about it makes me absolutely exhausted.

But Rob was a total rock star. So, you know, I had that going for me.

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