Good grief

I was in Pearl Paint in Chinatown waiting for an elevator today, along with three other women, one of whom was yakking away in her cell phone. Yap, yap, yap.

“Yeah, I’m with Marsha in Chinkytown right now. She begged me to come down with her,” she said.

I turned and stared at her, but she didn’t notice me.

“Marsha’s always begging me to go down to Chinkytown with her. She loves it here.”

Since I was the only Asian person in the small vestibule around the elevator, I wondered if Cell Phone Twit was trying to goad me. But she seemed either indifferent or oblivious to my presence, and totally invested in her conversation. I passed her a couple of other times in the store, on different levels, and she always had her phone attached to her ear and the same stream of vacuous pitter-patter spewing forth from her glossy mouth.

I don’t know. Maybe “Chinkytown” is the latest cutesy urban slang for Chinatown, and I just haven’t caught on. But I did find it shocking and offensive. Cell Phone Twit may not consider herself racist, but a racist epithet is still a racist epithet, no matter how blithely it is uttered.

I think New Yorkers, and people who have adopted New York City as their hometown, like to think of themselves as being somewhat more open-minded, tolerant and cosmopolitan than people from the rest of the country. But I’m constantly amazed at how much casual racism I encounter in this city. It’s almost as if the challenge of living among so much diversity just makes certain people snap and go stupid.

When I lived in Manhattan Valley (the area between Central Park and Columbus Avenue above 96th Street), my roommate, a pre-med student at Columbia, referred to our neighborhood as “the ghetto,” mainly because a lot of Hispanic people live there. He was fond of pulling shit like yelling at delivery guys in a mock Mexican accent that he’d apparently modeled off the Taco Bell dog because they couldn’t bring his food over fast enough at 2 in the morning. My other roommate’s boyfriend referred to Harlem, where I lived for a while after grad school, as “Niggerville.” And I have a friend who often confesses that black people scare her… but it’s, like, okay for her to say that because she prefaces it with “I know this sounds bad…”

All of this drives me crazy. I never know what to do when I hear people say stuff like that, simply because I never expect to hear it from my friends and associates. I don’t make a conscious decision to hang out with bigoted numbfucks, or to put myself in places where I’ll run into them. But, I swear to God, it’s like the plague and I’m getting ticked. If I were a braver person, I’d probably tell people like that off. I know I probably sound a bit sanctimonious. After all, thanks to “Avenue Q” and “Crash,” we all know that we’re all a little bit racist. But that’s not an excuse, and I believe that if you have enough brain power to be a pre-med student at Columbia or, for that matter, to safely navigate all five floors of Pearl Paint while simultaneously blabbering away on a cell phone, then you should be capable of examining your stupid prejudices in the privacy of your own head, without making the rest of the world suffer.

5 Comments so far

  1. Doris Night (unregistered) on March 14th, 2006 @ 8:35 am

    chinkytown!?!? un-fucking-believable. someone should beat her with that cell phone.

    yeah, i feel like i’m so insulated, surrounded by for the most part by intelligent people, i’m FLABBERGASTED when i encounter ignorance like you did.

  2. Anna (unregistered) on March 14th, 2006 @ 8:45 am

    wow. that’s bad. and yes, the ignorance encountered in cities is somehow always more shocking than expected.

  3. lisa (unregistered) on March 14th, 2006 @ 9:22 am

    My question is: Do you think Marsha was in the elevator with you? If I heard one of my friends say something like that, I would seriously lose it.

  4. Melissa (unregistered) on March 14th, 2006 @ 10:24 am

    I really don’t think I would’ve been able to keep my cool.

    The sad thing is… do you really want to waste your breath on them? Is it really going to change their thinking?

    Saying something won’t, but if they got a serious ass kicking, they probably would think twice about making comments like that again. :)

  5. Catherine (unregistered) on March 14th, 2006 @ 12:32 pm

    Actually, I think Marsha _was_ in the vestibule w/ me. She had one of those semi-mortified “my friend is an ass but I’m going to be totally non-committal about it because my friend is always an ass (but I’m lonely)” looks on her face. Which is just sad.

    I wanted to say something to Cell Phone twit, but I hesitated b/c I couldn’t tell if she was _trying_ to be offensive or was just ignorant. I’ve told off other people a few times before when I could tell they were just being offensive… I’ve gotten reactions ranging from an apology (the drunk guy in front of me in line at a Korean deli who was mouthing off at the owner) to more of the same (teenagers in Harlem who were yelling racial slurs at my boyfriend and me). It’s a total crapshoot and when I do it I always wonder if I’ll end up like a headline in The Post: “Foolhardy Lady Shot After Telling Off Racist Oaf.”

    I should definitely start yelling at my friends when I hear them saying racist crap, however. The only thing I risk losing is an idiot… plus I _hate_ thinking I’ve sent the message that saying stuff like that is okay (i.e. the Marsha syndrome). And, yup, some ass-kicking here and there might be in order :).

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