Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Proper Responses?
Sometimes I just don't know what to say in a particular situation. I wish I were one of those people who can think clearly on their feet, and who immediately knows *exactly* what to say in response to something someone says that is outrageously off. (I generally think of a good response several hours or days later.) Anyway, twice this week I found myself on the receiving end of 2 very awkward comments from 2 different people in Podunkville. Allow me to share them and get your feedback.
The first outrageously odd comment, to which naturally I didn't know at all how to respond, came from my neighbor, a woman about my age who has 2 kids about my kids' ages. Our kids were playing when suddenly she brought up the local elementary school close to our homes and said the following: "Now, I'm not a racist or anything, but I'm not comfortable sending my son to a school where he'll be the only white kid in class and will have no friends." She mentioned that several white families she knows have opted out of the school in fear of the putative majority Latino presence there.
Wow. First of all, whenever anyone prefaces any statement with the assertion "I'm not a racist or anything, but..." it means they're about to say something crazy racist!
Secondly, on all of the basic educational metrics people usually like to examine in order to make such school comparisons, it's not even close: our neighborhood school has been nationally-recognized for excellent test scores; and also has the benefit of small class sizes, and an extremely cohesive team of teachers using an educational model proven by peer-reviewed research. Yes, my neighbor is correct - there is a sizeable Latino population at the school, however the numbers show that her white son would certainly NOT be in the "minority."
I'm appalled that she thinks that the racial make-up of a potential class even matters - that is, it seems to matter to her if whites are not the super-majority. Because she hates the very idea of her kids associating with Mexican-American kids so much, she's planning to send her children to a different school that is mediocre on every measure - with lower test scores, larger class sizes, and where she'll have to drive them and have a longer commute. Seriously, I give up.
When someone says something racist, and moreover, doesn't even have their basic facts straight about the topic, where do you even begin? Ugh.
My actual response was something borderline incoherent, followed by "Well, have you actually visited the school or talked to any of the teachers or the administrators? I can also give you the names of several parents with multiple kids who go there and absolutely love it...."
Moving on to the 2nd awkward Podunkville comment of the week. If you're still reading, it's not nearly as awful as the first comment, it's just irritating. I'll be brief. In fact, I'll just paraphrase what was said.
Bottom line: when someone you know earns upwards of $300k/year after taxes, and their only debt is a reasonable mortgage on a home they got for a steal (it's their only debt because their father is uber wealthy and paid for all schooling/professional degrees), and yet they routinely mention how "poor" and how "on a really tight budget" they are, and how they simply can't afford to pay for new clothes for their kid, and get all 'woe is me' when the bill comes? Um, yeah. Not getting a lot of sympathy from me. But what does one say when presented with icky comments about it, that have zero basis in economic reality?
Ok, so, obviously, I have a problem with 1) statements made from a place of racism, and with 2) people not bothering to get their basic educational facts straight before turning their backs on a perfectly good public school, and also with 3) objectively affluent people bitching about things they think they can't afford, when really they're just cheap and probably extremely selfish. Good to know these triggers about myself!
How do you handle your triggers when they come up in a conversation? Do you know what to say at the right moment? Do you say anything at all?