Image by Tom Woodward
It happened again last night! I had another racism purge! My racism purges happen at the damndest, most unpredictable times.
This one happened while I was looking at a recipe for Dutch mussels.
I call them purges because being confronted by your own racism is sort of like barfing up a bad lunch. Except racism is much worse than a bad lunch. At least a bad lunch comes with a certain statute of limitations. If doesn’t erupt back up within about 12 hours or so of ingesting it, you know you’re pretty much in the clear. But imagine if that Twinkie you ate 40 years ago and washed down with a bottle of orange soda could suddenly stage an uprising. That’s how racism is. Some bit of racism you subconsciously ingested decades ago can abruptly come to the surface and demand to be purged. You’re never in the clear.
For example, a racism purge I had a few months back was brought on by the mundane act of ordering circulation socks from the drug store. My ankles swell up badly if I don’t wear circulation socks, so once a month or so I call the drug store and order a new pair. The woman asked what color socks I wanted. I said:
“I’ll take flesh colored.”
“You mean beige?” the woman said. And that’s when I had my racism purge. Holy crap! I should have said I wanted “Caucasian colored” socks! Although even Caucasian is too much of a word to describe the opaque and lifeless hue of these drab socks. A more accurate name for the color would be plaster (Caucasian) store mannequin or embalmed (Caucasian) corpse.
But anyway, I had a major racism purge right then and there. I felt a swell of psychic nausea and then I regurgitated a big chunk of racism. God knows when I ingested it. It could have been when I was in kindergarten or it could have been yesterday.
I hoped that I’d gotten all the racism out of my system, but then I had another purge in my doctor’s office. The blood pressure machine said “Made in USA”, which boosted my confidence as to its accuracy. Another hunk of racism gurgled in my gut like hot lava. Why should I feel any different if it said “Made in Korea” or anywhere else? It’s not like everybody everywhere else is dropping dead from strokes because they make such crappy blood pressure machines.
So I expelled some more racism there. I really, really hoped this would be the last episode for sure this time. But then I read the Dutch mussels recipe, which made me think of Jeroen, my wife’s college friend who’s from the Netherlands. He stayed with us one night when he was visiting the States and when we went out to dinner he picked up the check. I wasn’t surprised that he did that. I laughed to myself at the notion that because he’s Dutch I’d expect him to insist on splitting the bill. Then I remembered the time my car broke down late at night in a bad slummy neighborhood. I’m sitting in my dead vehicle waiting for help to arrive. Three black youths approached. I braced myself. I was a sitting duck. But they just said hi as they passed my car and kept walking. I exhaled. But why was I surprised that they didn’t hassle me but not surprised that Jeroen picked up the check?
So up came another heaping glob of racism. My racism purges, like giving back a bad lunch, are very uncomfortable while they’re happening but are quite cleansing and therapeutic in the end.
I don’t think that was my final racism purge. I suspect this is a chronic condition that will last the rest of my life.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He blogs at Smart Ass Cripple, "expressing pain through sarcasm since 2010."