As I sat a enjoying lunch with my friends this afternoon, as we do every Tuesday, I overheard the conversation of the table next to us, and while I am not usually one to eavesdrop, as soon as I heard them it was very hard to avert my attention from the group. It started with a single joke- if that’s what you want to call it, “Hey, do you know why can’t Mexicans play UNO?……Because they always take the green cards” and this one joke escalated into a full-on racist conversation…or as this group saw it, “a bunch of jokes”.
One after another, the jokes kept going. Anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Black, and making fun of those with mental and physical handicaps. The more they talked, the more uncomfortable my friends and I got, and the more we wanted to say something. Do something. Anything to stop them. To stop this group of white (mostly male) college kids who were cracking themselves up, at the expense of every minority group.
And what did I do after listening to all of this?
Nothing. I wish I would have, and maybe if it was any other day I would have, but something kept me from walking up to them. It was a sad acceptance, but I knew that me saying something would not have changed this one person’s extremely narrow view of the world. While everything in me said go up to that table and say, “Hey, have you heard the one about the Privileged White Male?” I knew that there was more of a chance at the group lashing out at me (openly gay, openly Jewish woman) than there was of them apologizing and suddenly not being racist anymore.
In that moment, instead of asking how I could change this group of people’s narrow view of the word, I asked how my friends and I could make a difference on a larger scale. The friends that I had been eating lunch with that afternoon are both education majors, and we discussed how to start at a younger age to eliminate hate. Schools have started to promote diversity and tolerance, but its very hard to ingrain tolerance into the minds of children whose parents have taught them the opposite. But if we don’t attempt to make a difference, then change will never be possible.
Obviously I know racism and discrimination exist in the world. I am not trying to deny the fact that there are horribly uninformed people who do not accept anyone who is unlike them, but I have not had a lot of experience with these people.