Thursday, May 22, 2008

Racist, insulting, stupid, all or none of the above?

As a parent to two Latino children, I realize my family is going to have to deal with a variety of challenges involving race, ethnicity, skin color, nationality, language, adoption, etc. When we run into things related to race and ethnicity now it’s pretty abstract, but Dave and I regularly ask ourselves, “Okay how will we handle that in 6 months when Kyle can understand more?” or “What happens when Grant and Kyle are 5 or 12 or 16?”

Well, an odd episode occurred yesterday morning. Once every week or so my friend Julie and I meet with our boys to walk at the mall and let the boys run around in the play area. My two sons are adopted from Guatemala as is her son. We were sitting down at one point chatting while the boys were in their strollers eating their snack. An older Caucasian man pops out of nowhere, comes to within a foot of the boys, looks at them and starts speaking in “Spanish”. He only spoke about twenty words but it turns out that he wasn’t speaking Spanish – he was just pretending to by making up gobbledygook and saying it with Spanish intonations.

Before I realized he was faking the Spanish, I said, “They don’t understand you.” He said, “That’s okay, neither did I.” And he walked off.

I’ve had Latino people speak to the boys in Spanish before – from what I can tell they are saying hello and just ‘chatting’ with the boys, just like I say googly things to babies and toddlers. I’ve taken it as very sweet. But having an elderly white guy come up and pretend to speak Spanish is a whole other issue. I’m not sure how I’d explain that to the boys if they were older. Was it racist? At first I would have said that’s a bit strong, but after relaying the situation here, it kind of seems like it. But the line between ‘racist’ and ‘ignorant’ is fuzzy sometimes. Without knowing what the man’s intention was, I can’t confidently say. I think he was insensitive and stupid, but I don’t think he had malicious intent. Yet I’ve thought about this for the last day and I don’t have a theory of what his purpose was.

If he was actually speaking Spanish I would say he was well-intentioned even though I wouldn’t necessarily love that he did it. But that he came up deliberately to speak fake Spanish changes it considerably. When I think of an Asian equivalent… let’s say my children were from China and he came up and said, “Ching chang chung” four times I would be enraged. What this man did yesterday using ‘Spanish’ didn’t enrage me but it was perplexing.

This has definitely been a rambling blog entry. I usually assess a situation and form an opinion but this one is a head-scratcher.

I’d love anyone else’s thoughts or opinions.


Michelle Smiles said...

Weird, rude, bizarre, ignorant - check. Racist? Maybe. I guess racism is in the eye of the beholder sometimes. Could go either way in my mind. But I would definitely not find it cute or funny - I would ask the guy to back away from my children. Freak.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Michelle smiles, I think the guy was just a bit "off" and probably would be speaking gibberish to anyone. My concern is what was he doing in the kiddy area?

Tam said...

I'd definitely be ticked off. I don't know if he meant to be racist, but it was frickin' awfully close to it if it wasn't. I'd have been so shocked I wouldn't have responded, but I'd obsess about what I SHOULD have said for days afterward.

Anonymous said...

It's me Kathleen, just getting around to reading this...

I'd hope the guy shows up again, and maybe then you can just ask him what his purpose was... and by doing that cause him to maybe re think what he did...

Clearly he's ignorant, and probably thinks he's some sort of entertainer... I'd agree he probably meant no harm, but he sure was foolish.