If there's one thing I learned in working with someone who casually promotes racism, it's a lot easier to shout some anonymous person online down. It's easier to draw lines, pick sides, call names.
It is much harder to confront someone you know and developed some kind of rapport with.
I worked closely with a white American dude old enough to be my father. He said lots of racist stuff. I survived. But I always knew I wasn't going to melt down or mentally crumble the way a racist person might think.
Having progressive beliefs and friends around me, the expectation I had of myself, and progressive friends might have of me is that I'd probably confront him about his racist speech.
But I don't like confrontation, I'd rather do everything to avoid it. I also had a curiosity to know how our relationship would keep evolving without using that racism to shut down any contact and thus, never be able to get to know him and write what I'm currently writing.
So I just kept plugging away at our job. I'm just here to get my money and get out, I thought.
I stayed dead silent and chose to avoid commenting when he would say "Asians this...", "Mexicans that...", "Muslims that..."
To be clear, I'm not calling my co-worker a "racist", as if being a racist was a separate species of human. I'm telling you that he does what he does; he kinda promotes attitudes of racism. By "racism", I don't mean the separationist, KKK-rally attending view of a "racist", but rather a more "casual" racist.
It's not like he consciously avoided people of color or anything associated with them --- he was born in Japan, he drove a Nissan, he ate burritos with me. He talked about his sexcapades in foreign lands.
It was more like when someone from another race did something that got in his way, he would insult them based on whatever was a trait that stood out.
Being in Southern California, people of different races is the norm, and so if he saw any hint of brown at a person who just happened to get in his way he would say, "Muslims that, Mexicans that, Indian chick, terrorism...etc."
The First Time
I remember one particular moment when a elderly Japanese man was driving a truck, and making a right turn. He did it slowly. But we were trying to make a left into the same street before traffic came. He exclaimed, "Come on you fucking Jap, hurry up. That's why these people shouldn't drive."
I was floored the first time he made a comment like this because well I guess I'm just not used to it; and it's something I would not want to get used to. I was kind of paralyzed in action, but I realized the old engineer's principle, "if you don't know what to do, don't do anything."
A lot of his rage was channeled on these within-the-moment occurrences, but he moved on kind of quickly afterwards, with the exception of an extended
He didn't dwell on and on about other races and ethnicities; but perhaps it's because I did not join in any of his tantrums and I made the conscious effort to stay silent during them.
I wonder if his many many white working buddies from yore would probably go on and on about different races and ethnicities.
I myself am not actually white. I guess I can look somewhat culturally ambiguous, though the guesses usually only range from Asian to Hispanic. I don't know if he ever figured out that I am actually Asian or specifically of immigrant parents from the Philippines. It seems like he thought I was Mexican, but when he saw a Mexican guy in a civic was speeding on a residential street it never stopped him from talking about "its always these fucking Mexican kids speeding."
Donald Trump: A Gateway to Openly Expressing Racism
The first time I recall him making any kind of incendiary commentary, it was related to Obama.
I did vote for Obama, and I think he's doing great, but I don't necessarily support/condone everything he does.
When in conversation about Obama, I know that the best thing is usually to remain silent. I've seen enough online commentary to know that minds are made up about him, way before any conversation takes place. Trying to change anyone's mind about Obama is like trying to change someone's religion.
When my co-worker made his comment, I was making comments about the dangers of the particular job we were doing without the benefit of construction zone cones or a full work crew. Our job on that particular day included standing in the middle of the street, sometimes getting caught up morning rush hour traffic on 50 MPH speed limit streets.
"Sometimes, maybe this job isn't worth it," I said.
He said, "I'm only risking my life if I'm taking out Obama."
It was mostly a political statement, but a bit unsettling to invoke a fantasy of presidential assassination while in the middle of a job. It made me wonder if he would have said the same thing about George W. or even Bill Clinton.
In our first few months working together, he was one to make a lot of political commentary. He told me that Fox News was the only news channel worth listening to. He was also trying to talk about how Donald Trump was going to change this country.
Along with his political commentary, in part, poetically mirroring the seemingly unfiltered Trump, he began to openly channel some pent-up anger against some of these groups.
I think it took a kind of comfort level with me for him to begin even making these type of statements. Again, I dislike confrontation, but I guess that dislike makes me a natural for Anthropology where the main task is to listen. I'm always curious to know what people are like in their "natural" state. That is, I like to see how people are when they're not always confronted or being asked to change.
A Quick Humanizing Biography According to My Point of View
Aside from the racism, there was a lot I learned from him and actually admire about him.
I think everyone is bound to have redeeming qualities.
He's not the worst person in the world, but you wouldn't easily warm up to him.
We worked early, and he was just about on time every time.
He listens to the soul, jazz station 94.7, the Wave and alternates with 95.5 KLOS, classic rock. It seems like he would put it on 94.7 whenever I was in the car. I was actually kind of shocked that he listened to the Wave, and with great enthusiasm. One of my co-workers suspected that he had been in an interracial marriage because of that, incidentally.
He calls and prides himself as a "speed demon;" he is reliably, almost unfailingly so and efficient at the job he is called to do. He gets things done and does a great job of planning ahead, but you will be working fast.
Anything involving work productivity, I believe he has great knowledge and can get done. Build a house, fix a car, cook, garden.
Though once you walk him into the realm of dealing with computers, all you see is another bumbling old guy who says he gets it, but does not actually.
So while we were getting our work done, he often left any computer work related to uploading or downloading to me or another co-worker.
Being of the late Baby Boom Generation, he was one to reminisce on his days as a young iron worker. He needed to be quick and tough. He prided himself on landing a position in management fairly quickly.
He follows sports, but only to bet and win money on golfers and baseball teams he bets on. He actually got me into golf, which incidentally got me watching/following Filipino-Aussie Jason Day.
In the short time that he was with our company, he's quickly developed a reputation for being fast and efficient, but being difficult to work with. Being difficult to work with didn't necessarily mean that it was because he was being outwardly prejudiced or anything, it was because his working style is fairly rigid and inflexible.
At the beginning of the project, when there were multiple people, we tentatively agreed to meet at 6AM. For these projects, the norm had been to meet at 6AM for the first few weeks, but then adapt the schedule as necessary. He's the only one who'd adhere to starting right at 6AM every day.
The fact that he worked on that schedule, also while noting when co-workers were not available or missed something while on assignment rubbed more than one of my co-workers the wrong way.
I could see why the co-workers disliked this; he was making himself look good, while kinda making the others look bad.
When I See Him Again
He may read this some day, and so I've written this piece with that in mind.
There were times where we felt really good about finishing things. Like the time, we finished surveying street lines. While in a strip mall, he turned up the volume on 94.7 and rocked the block.
When we were focused on the job and finishing things, all was good.
But every now and then, he would say something that would remind me why I couldn't quite feel really comfortable around him.
He would continue to make his comments about Asian drivers, Mexicans, etc.
A lot of his politically-tinged commentaries also centered around "bringing the America he knew back." When we saw a rocket ship in a local playground, what they call "Cold War Playground Equipment", he lamented the fact that America was becoming too politically correct.
That kinda statement seems to reflect his internal "need" to continually make offensive comments about other races and ethnicities.
But he took me aback when we were talking about his favored physiques for women. Somehow we got to talking about Serena Williams. He thought the typical bro thing, "she looks like a man."
Arguing over personal tastes, I've figured, is usually a lot less tense than arguing politics of right and wrong, but it is still a way of communicating politics, and, so I bit.
"I kinda like the Serena Williams body type." Which, incidentally, I actually do.
He more or less accepted it, essentially saying to each his own, which in his case tends to be the classic petite women, and encompasses a lot of Asian women.
A few days later while on the street a carrier truck apparently being driven by a black woman was speeding through the fast lane on a 4-lane street. My co-worker wasn't in too much danger, but it kind of shook him up a bit.
I remarked that it was "Serena Williams trying to get some revenge," to which he said, "probably one of those Fergusons."
"Fergusons?", I knew exactly what he might be aiming for when he said that, but wanted to hear him explain it all himself.
"Think about what happened!", he implored me to think.
I already knew.
He said, "it's my new way of saying nigger. You can't say that anymore. I told the black guys at the golf club and they laughed."