I don't think of myself as particularly racist. Sure, I'm a little bit racist, just like everybody else, but I roll up my windows and lock my doors when I drive through poor black neighborhoods, poor white neighborhoods, and poor Hispanic neighborhoods. There is no one race that I feel scared of, or badly about. Just poor people! And hey, I'm no Daddy Warbucks myself. If you drive past my house and lock your car doors, I'm cool with that. I do promise not to rob you though.
Anyway, my point is, the kind of racism that I participate in is that insidious kind that has been so ingrained into my subconscious that I don't even know it's there. I remember when I was a kid, and my parents would tell me stories about when they were kids, and I would be shocked and appalled at the kinds of things that they were taught. In schools! Their own grade school teachers would use horribly racist phrases that no one in my generation would ever think about using. I smugly told myself how superior and non-racist I was, just for having lived in a later time and having been thus enlightened. Nothing I was learning would ever make my future children sick with disgust!
But the thing is, you don't even notice it when you are doing it yourself. The other day Ruby was trying to get Edward to sit down and he was having a hard time for some reason, and Ruby told him to sit "Criss-Cross Applesauce." Now, I had no idea what on Earth criss cross applesauce was, but I finally figured out she was trying to get him to sit with his ankles crossed and his knees akimbo on the floor. You know! Indian Style!
Wait, what? Indian style? To me that is not a racist term, because it doesn't mean anything to me in regards to race. "Indian Style" just means that you sit with your ankles crossed. I'm not thinking about a race of people when I say it. But when I heard Ruby say criss cross applesauce, I realized that they must have changed it for a reason. And I thought back to my youth, playing "Cowboys and Indians," and I realized that, of course, they had to stop calling it that. For one thing, Native Americans are not called Indians anymore. They never really should have been, except for the fact that Columbus was an idiot. And Native American style doesn't sound right at all! When I really thought about it, saying "Indian Style" for sitting like a stereotypical Native American seemed kind of racist.
Someday I will probably have to tell my children that we used to call criss cross applesauce "Indian Style," and they will probably be shocked and appalled at how racist my schools were. I will have to tell them though, because I doubt that I can ever say criss cross applesauce without at least thinking "Indian Style," and I'm sure it will slip out at some point, and they will stare at me and judge me and feel smugly superior. And that's fine. They can think that, and I will try to remove this suddenly offensive term from my vocabulary. But that makes me think: what other things do I say that may be outdated and offensive?
It's hard to think of things you say or do that you don't know are offensive, because you honestly don't know they are offensive and so where do you even begin? The biggest recent example I can think of is the word "retard," which everybody knows now is offensive and hurtful, but which we used to use all the time. But I don't know if that counts, because I never really used that word to begin with, and it certainly wasn't a word our teachers taught us to use in school. The same goes for saying 'That's so gay."
I know when we used to cut people in line, but stand in back of them instead of in front of them, it was called "Chinese Cuts," but I can't for the life of me think why. "Chinese Fire Drill" is another seemingly offensive term that I can't figure out. What is Chinese about everybody switching seats in the car at a red light? And we used to give each other "Indian Burns" by rubbing each other's arms until they turned red. I do get why that makes racist sense. But again, these things were not taught to us by teachers they way "Indian Style" was. I'm having a hard time thinking of other things, but I know there must be some. Can any of you think of some term your teachers in school used that you later figured out was maybe not okay to say anymore? I just want to make sure I stop using them all before my kids figure out all of my accidental racism.