There’s a difference between saying something racist and saying something potentially offensive that happens to be unique to particular race. For example, to say, “Mexicans are dirty,” is racist as hell. To say “Illegal imigrant Mexican children shouldn’t be allowed to go to public schools,” could be offensive and would therefore be considered racist, but dammit, it’s true. If there were crazy numbers of Canadians or Nigerians busting over here illegally, not paying a lick of taxes, yet sending their non-English-speaking children to attend already-overcrowded public schools for free, I would have just as much of a problem. But no one will ever say that, even though Vicente Fox can talk about what black people over here will and won’t do.
However, many people will turn any mention of race into an offensible issue. Americans tiptoe around the elephant in the middle of the room like it’s not there, when it would truly benefit everyone to just admit that the damn thing is there and give it a peanut every so often. I am very unashamedly black, and I have no problem bringing up “race”-related issues in mixed company, just as I have no problem discussing the physics of stilleto heels and leg wax when men happen to be in the room. It amuses me watching someone try to identify or describe someone who happens to be of another ethnicity; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone go through the whole gamut: the lady in the blue dress… she wears glasses… she has long hair, she wears aquamarine nail polish on her baby toe… when clearly they are talking about the only black person in the room. Just say she’s black! It’s not a curse word! If I’m trying to figure out who someone is and my conversation-parter starts with that craziness, I just ask straight out: “Is it the hispanic lady or the white one?” I’ve never not seen a wash of relief go across their face.
Why can’t we all just admit that we’re different and revel in it? We all do and say things as a group, good and bad, that are unique to our group. Black people talk in the movies. White people wash with the raw soap. Indian kids do crazy well in school. There are always outliers who don’t match the stereotype, but a stereotype is by definition an oversimplification. It’s probably not good form to speak in generalities, but goodness—there are 7 billion people in the world; any statement is a generalization. I like it that my people are different from other people and others aren’t the same as us. Things would be a heck of a lot less interesting if everyone in the melting pot really did melt.
I just think the elephant needs a hug once in a while.