Wednesday, May 15, 2013

They Might Be Giants "Your Racist Friend"

All eyes were suddenly on me.  I had said that last line a little louder than I realized I guess, because the gears of the room had ground to a halt.  And I was the spanner in the works . . .

It was my house.  I didn't really know any of these guys.  And if I'd thought about it, I wouldn't have really cared if they liked me or didn't like me or whatever.  They weren't my friends.

They weren't my roommate's friends either.  Not if this is where we found ourselves.

Living in the farmhouse we called 7 Maples was, for me, a lovely continuation of my college years---free and unattached and late nights and drinking beer and having fun with friends.

As for my roommate and her friends, they were a few years younger.  College age.  So it wasn't so much a continuation, as, well, just the college years for them.

She knew a lot of guys.  And during breaks from college, when high school friends would come back to town, these college boys would show up at our place.  Presumably because they all still lived at their parents.

I think my roommate (in the minds of these guys) was kind of like the kid in the neighborhood that you didn't necessarily want to be your best friend, but, she had a pool.  So you hung out.

And that's how I came home to a dozen or so guys hanging around my living room, drinking beer and shooting the shit.  I stood in the doorway to the living room, observing, listening.  Nothing unusual.  Nothing I would have been upset about.

But I was protective of the roommate, and I could see this kid-with-the-pool thing.  I heard the way they talked to her.  Talked down to her.

I had heard many of these guys talk trash about her on other occasions.

And that put me off.

But when the racist jokes started, that's when things turned . . .

"What do you call a black guy who . . ."

"Please stop," my roommate meekly protested.

The joke teller paused for a split second, and kept going, even as their host was saying, "No, don't."

Buoyed by the laughter when the joke landed, and by the weak protest of their host, another guest offered a joke on the same theme.

"What do you call a black guy who . . ."

"Really guys.  Stop it.  I don't want to hear it."

But her protestations were only fuel.  The joke was delivered with more gusto.

It made me sick.

The racist jokes made me sick.  And the total lack of fucking respect for her made me sick.

A third jokester started.

"Okay, okay.  What do you call a black guy who . . ."


All eyes were suddenly on me.  I had said that last line a little louder than I realized I guess, because the gears of the room had ground to a halt.

"Enough," I said again, more gently.

And then I stepped out of the doorway and into the recesses of the house.  Half embarrassed about by outburst.  Half furious that I would have to make it in the first place.

I heard conversation slowly start again from the room.  But within 5 minutes, the crowd was excusing itself, and within 10 minutes, they were all gone.

It was the strangest thing.  I had never thought of myself as so powerful.  I cleared a room full of guys who could just as easily kicked my ass, with two short sentences.

Even stranger, was the way these guys reacted to me when they would see me around later.  Instead of hating, or even acting embarrassed, they did something I completely did not expect.

They respected me.

I was given some level of deference by these idiots, who so easily disrespected and steamrolled my roommate (and I'm sure many others), and instead was treated with a cautious respect.

It was a good life lesson.

I'm a pretty shy guy.  Not one to rock the boat, or broadcast strong feelings to a crowded room.

But this vignette gave me the confidence to speak up when necessary, and to even speak combatively.  And know it was actually more likely to win you friends than enemies.

Hear the song on Youtube.

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