Racism, What's It Good For?
My ethnic background is 1/2 Norwegian, 1/4 English, 1/8 Heinz 57 and 1/8 Cherokee. When I was a teenager, I thought it was so cool to be part "Indian" that I told people that I was half Norwegian and half Indian. I don't know if anyone believed me, but I enjoyed my little ruse and it laid the foundation for a few fabrications later in my life.
The year I was 29, I was working part-time at night in the "cash cage" (back office where the money was kept) in a K-Mart in Salt Lake City. My shift was 5 pm to 9 pm, and I was the only person in the office, except for the night manager, who would pop in to visit with me rather more often than he should have. He was a chubby, randy young guy who enjoyed getting me riled up with his pro-war, conservative politics and stupid racist remarks, among other subjects. He had discovered early on that I did not like it when he would use words like ni**er, coon, and other disparaging terms for blacks. The more I objected, the more fun he had using them. One night, I was at my wits end with him, and I suddenly got a brilliant idea! Here's what I said:
"Dick, you know I hate it when you talk like that. Now I'm going to tell you why. But first you have to promise me that you'll never tell anyone. Nobody outside of my family knows this about me."
Dick became appropriately quiet and serious. "No, I won't tell. Honest!"
"Okay, here goes." I took a deep breath. "My mother is half black and half Indian."
Dick's eyes opened wide. After a short pause, he said, in a completly calm voice, "Oh! What kind of Indian?"
"That's interesting! Actually, you do look a little Indian. The cheekbones or something."
"I'm sorry about the way I talked. Don't worry. It's our little secret."
And you know what? He never used the "bad words" around me again. And he never told "our little secret" to anyone in the store.