I live in a very loving and politically correct bubble here in Madison. Apparently not a lot of people in Wisconsin -or even in Madison- get to experience what I experience. I get that. I know I’m privileged and I don’t take it for granted or sugar coat it. I hear the stories from close friends and even though I am married to a Mexican man I really don’t run into racism that much. As a woman I rarely run into sexism either. I am not sure why but this is my truth. I could put together a couple of theories and maybe someday I will.
When racism happens in my bubble gum world I notice it. I notice it like a big bright light shining in the dead of night.
I have to.
We have to.
If we don’t, it grows like a sickening, poisonous mold.
This weekend my 12 year old had a soccer tournament. Soccer is his love. He lights up when he is on the field. At dinner last night, we were recapping the tournament. Finally his team won the championship after coming in 2nd place too many times recently. He told us about his favorite goals, the great saves made, the sassy kid on the other team that got a yellow card, oh…and he told us that after Bryan kicked a great ball to clear it out, a kid on the other team said, “I hate Mexicans.” We all got quiet. This was one of those moments that meant something. I had to be quiet and listen to this moment.
Background info: this was the final game and it was 1-0, we were ahead. We weren’t beating them so badly that they were frustrated and feeling defeated. They had some really good shots on goal and it was a close game. Bryan is a dark skinned Mexican unlike Alex, my white skinned half Mexican son. Bryan is one of the best players on the team; he plays sweeper position – defense. Not much gets past him. He pretty much kills it every game. The other team was from Illinois. We have seen dirty games before and this wasn’t like that. They were playing physical but so were we. From the sidelines I would never have guessed that a comment like that would have occurred.
I knew all the things I wanted to say, I knew how to clearly describe the feelings I was feeling but this wasn’t about me. This was a moment to listen.
“Then what happened Alex?”
“It wasn’t a big deal Mom, Bryan didn’t care.”
“Did you care?”
“Mom, it wasn’t a big deal.”
See that? He knew how much I cared. He just wanted to play soccer. They listen to smack talk on the field all the time. They get pushed and shoved around and they can push and shove back. But Alex and his teammates don’t talk dirty; they don’t talk smack. They would never make a racist comment like that. It’s just not who they are, it’s not how they are raised and it’s not how they play the game. On the field or off the field.
After dinner Carlos and I talked through it. It is a big deal. Racism is dangerous and hurtful. We decided that the one thing we could do was make sure that the coach of the other team knew about it. I know he might choose not to do anything with the information but at least we weren’t going to let it slide.
What else can I do? How can I help Alex see that it is a big deal? How is it that Alex separated himself so quickly from Bryan and didn’t acknowledge how he felt as a Mexican? You know what pisses me off? Alex is such a proud Mexican that he calls himself Mexican even though there is no question about it, he is half Mexican. The only thing Mexican in me is all the love I have for Mexico. I have loved that about him but right now I conflicted. After his reaction, it seems to me that it didn’t occur to him that he should or could care about someone making that comment. I am making assumptions here. I don’t know what Alex thinks. I don’t know how he feels.
I know that I care and I want him to care. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I’m not deeply offended by racism. I’m not Muslim either but if someone makes a negative, hateful comment about Muslims, I’m offended. Because Hispanics, Muslims, Mexicans, Russians are all my brothers and sisters. Period.
I’m offended by hate.
I’m sad. I’m worried. Then I get angry. And then I get fixated on results. Gotta fix this. Come on, how can we fix this? Send an email? Ask the coach to have the courage to have a conversation with the team? And the parents? Write a letter? Run for President? Of the PTO or of the United States?
I took a deep breath this morning. I emailed the coach who quickly and kindly replied and assured me that he will let the other coach know. That piece isn’t in my hands now. I can send light and love to the player and hopefully some Mexican angels will walk into his life and there will be a shift.
But there is something bigger at home that is sitting on my dining room table and I don’t know how to handle it. I want Alex to care. I want him to care passionately. I want him to be the kind of kid that immediately says, “Dude, that’s not cool” when he hears shit like that. When we call it out people listen. If nobody calls it out then it becomes okay. It doesn’t really matter. The hell it does! So how do I raise him to be that kid? Head hanging down, I don’t know if I can.
I do know what I believe. I believe that the conversation needs to be fluid, ongoing and not so damn uncomfortable. I can comfortably talk about sexism. I might get all razzed up but I love the discussions and the aha moments that come out of being able to talk about it. As a white woman I want to comfortably talk about racism in a way that is helpful for humankind. We still have such a long way to go.
With an open heart and a curious mind I want to talk about it. Even when it would be easier to talk about the new restaurant that is opening on Park Street. So…
I’m going to practice talking about racism more. Not to blame. Not to complain. Not to preach.
I’m going to stay open, stay true to myself and speak up.
I’m going find the courage to bring LOVE into uncomfortable conversations.
I don’t believe this is a battle to fight. I believe this is an opportunity for us to step up and practice love and acceptance. I hope I have the courage to keep at it even when it is uncomfortable and I feel squirmy. I hope my kids overhear the conversations, become part of the conversations and feel comfortable. Or perhaps we’ll just get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable? Every time I feel like I have more questions than I have answers I’m going to go back into my heart and just breath love and openness in. And out.
Love and Courage is what I’ll pray for.