From: Mark Mallarde [Email him]
Mr. Derbyshire's column reminded me of a recent experience I had being called a "racist."
I frequently use an argument to stymie the “racist” charge when raising the delicate issue of the Mexican invasion of Southern California. I think it is effective. The most recent time I used it also was the most dramatic and a capsule version of a clash between civilizations. I was at my sports club on a Saturday evening about 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. closing time. A smattering of roughly ten older white guys and maybe an older black guy or two were changing into street clothes at a plodding pace. We all had “bowling alone” written all over us—no wives or girlfriends waiting for us or anything to do on a Saturday night. The locker room was silent, which is how I suspect we all wanted it. No rude cell phone conversations, just silence.
So I’m perusing my tablet on a locker room bench while still in a towel when I hear a familiar cacophony break the silence. A towel boy—or towel man—was yelling to a buddy in Mexican peasant-inflected Spanish. I have asked the towel men to keep it down once before but held back every other time. They yell at each other and strut around like they are at their own social club and we are their guests. But they are supposed to be working for me, not annoying me.
I gave it a few minutes and finally could not tolerate it any longer. I got up, walked around the row of lockers separating us and asked, “Could you please keep it down? Thank you.”
A half-minute passed, and then he walked over and asked what I wanted while making direct eye contact. He knew what I wanted. His machismo drove him to say something to me. I had to turn to face him, and I told him I wanted him to keep down the noise because he was yelling and not talking. Realizing he was trying to intimidate me and was harassing a club member, I added loud enough for others to hear: “You gotta problem with that?” That ended that.
Moments later, a young professional, Caucasian-looking Spaniard (or Mexican) turned the corner and demanded to know why I asked the towel man to stop talking in Spanish. I recognized him. This guy frequently chats up the towel boys in Spanish to feel like he is one of the little people. (It is the California version of a white guy that can talk jive with black people and feels morally superior for it.) I told him that the towel man was yelling. He was angry and said, “It was because he was speaking Spanish, wasn’t it?”
This is where my stock anti-racist argument comes in. I responded, “Well, if we were at an athletic club in France they would not appreciate me yelling in English very much, either. They would not allow that.”
A variation on this technique is: how would the French feel if 30 million of the poorest, most uncouth Americans invaded France? The French would never stop complaining. (The French make a good example because they have special “oppressed minority” status in Canada and are known to complain about foreigners.) Or how about Mexicans? How would they react if our poorest citizens migrated to Mexico in the tens of millions?
The young professional Latino snapped back with something inane like I was just upset I did not know Spanish myself. I said, “You’re the one that is so upset.” He walked off.
We crossed paths again in the parking lot as he drove out of the exit. He called me a “racist” out the passenger side window. I told him that that does not mean anything anymore. He announced that he was born in New Jersey, and I told him he sure did not sound like it. He jumped out of his car, got in my face and started cursing me in Spanish—as though I would not understand profanity in Spanish. I cursed him in English, and told him this is still the United States.
He walked back to his car without any blows thrown, but he seemed close to losing it. And all I did was ask a rude employee to stop yelling in a foreign language in our quiet locker room while he was supposed to be working.
See previous letters by Mark Mallarde.