Smack in the Race

Posted on August 12th, by Mark Pressman in Uncategorized. No Comments

“That’s racist.”

It’s become a favorite phrase in my house, but not on a serious note.   Oh, perhaps under dissection one could identify a modicum of topical truth.  After all, we are bombarded with political correctness at least once a day. So when my wife asks if I want blackened cajun chicken and my son declares “That’s racist!” it could be a whimsical backlash to the onslaught of over-sensitivity, but I’m betting my 10-year-old doesn’t truly understand America’s history of racism.

With the revived controversy of the Washington Redskins name and logo, I have re-questioned my position which I originally chalked up to over-sensitity.  I admittedly did not realize the history of the bigoted owner who purposely named his team out of hatred.  I wrongly assumed there was a misguided attempt to display homage to the native dwellers of our country, one that might have been acceptable at the time but had devolved into a racist term.  After all, no one uses the derogatory term “Redskin” in public the way the word “nigger” is thrown around.  Armed with the context of the team name’s origin and a better understanding of the term, to not change Washington’s name is both ignorant and moronic.

My lack of historical reference was ignorant.  I’m sure most football fans are equally ignorant in of the team name designation as well.  But I do question the difference between ignorance and racism.  While racist people are all ignorant, ignorant people aren’t necessarily racist.  Case in point is my mother-in-law,  a lovely woman with no mean streak.  Raised by a more right-leaning Archie Bunker father, one should be amazed that she doesn’t wear a pillow-case hood with her housecoat.  However she does have her moments…

I spent this past Sunday performing chores around the house.  After mowing and edging, I decided to patch up the concrete on my front porch steps.  I should preface this by saying I am no handyman and a decade into occupying this residence has left me still learning every new repair job. However, I’ve mixed cement before, so I felt I was up to the task.  Sure, I thought I could outsmart the quick-drying mixture by stirring up more than the packaging suggested, but when I stabbed my finger trying to break up the hardened chunks in the trough…let’s just say “lesson learned.”

After containing the gushing blood from my finger my mother-in-law offered to help me finish the job.  Most of this help was turning the water hose on and off for me and then sitting on the stoop keeping me company.  Often I’d complain about my throbbing finger, as I’m wont to do especially when simple jobs go awry.  Somehow my wound makes the chore seem more manly, or defrays from my weakness.  No matter, my mother-in-law is always good at agreeing with me, which is why I allow her to stay for so long.

“You know, these are the types of house repairs that you should hire a couple of Mexicans for.”  This was her sage advice.  And she’s not wrong.  In the next town over exists a large Hispanic population and there are many corners where you can find day-laborers struggling to get by at a very fair price.  I’m not certain of their nationality, neither is my mother-in-law, but her reference to “Mexicans” is ignorance, not racism.

As I toiled on my knees pressing wet cement into the gaping space beneath the slate steps, she lifted up the bag to read the packaging.  “You know, I don’t understand this.  Everything has to have Spanish on the label.   It’s so annoying!”

I stopped spreading the goop into the stoop.  I sat up.  “So let me get this straight,” I started.  “You think it’s okay to hire Hispanics to do my work cheaply, but you don’t want them to clearly understand the directions?”

My mother-in-law is not without a sense of humor or the ability to laugh at herself.   And laugh she did.  “You’re right!  What do I know?” she shrugged self-deprecatingly.  She sat back down on the top step as I returned to the job at hand.

“But those people are built for this kind of work.”  Okay, that was racist.

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