"Bigots are like the pupils of the eyes: the more light you shine on them, the more they recede."--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
I always thought that was a great quote, but I find from recent political activity I am very glad that bigotry has been exposed and they can't "recede" back into their worm holes.
Family and friends know that whenever I hear a bigoted remark, I feel it is my moral duty to confront it. I am not naive enough to believe that I could ever change people or their opinions, but at least I can embarrass them. Whenever I hear a bigoted remark, I always answer and say that I am a member of the particular ethnic or religious group being insulted. It's always interesting to see the reaction of people when their bigotry is exposed and yes, they do usually "recede"!
This all began in the 1970s when my brother Les and I were at a gas station owned by my cousin and a man made a disparaging remark about Hispanics. At that time, my brother had black hair, a black mustache, and a suntan. Les had taken Spanish in high school and he and I traded looks of disgust at the man's bigotry. Then Les began saying things to me in Spanish. Not knowing any more than a few words of Spanish, I answered, "Si, Jose!" The offender slunk away but I immediately grasped the power of passive-aggressive confrontation. Since then, I have claimed to be every race, religion, and nationality, but I admit that, until recently, I never had the courage to say that I was gay, although I would always confront homophobia.
Gerald and I attended a Community Festival in Columbus, and we were, as usual, conservatively dressed. We were going to meet some friends of ours who just happen to be gay. We had to park a great distance from the venue and as were exiting our car, another couple made nasty remarks about gay people who were walking along the street. Although I was already hand-in-hand with Gerald, I reacted by saying, "Obviously you do not realize that I am gay or you wouldn't say such hurtful things!" They did not respond but it was gratifying to see them slink away.
When I received my DNA results, Les asked, "Does this mean we have to stop saying we're Polish, Portuguese, and Patagonian?" I asked, "Are you only defending ALLITERATIVES with all those Ps?" He said, "We defend EVERYBODY!"
Once, one of my fellow managers at work told a Polish joke. I said, "Obviously, you don't know that I am of Polish descent." He asked, "With a name like Raypole?" I said, "It was originally Raypolkowsi." He said, "But that's your married name." I said "Shirkowski is my maiden name." The guy countered with, "Your maiden name was Shirkey just like your brother." I said, "It was Anglicized when our ancestors came to this country.", and just for good measure I tossed in the stereotype, "You know how clannish we all are!" He actually went to the department where my brother was working and he returned later and said, "I went to see your brother and he told me you guys are of Irish descent." I said, "Well, you probably said something anti-Irish to him!"
The remarks which constantly stun me are anti-Semitic ones and I'll relate a few:
1. All of the management people in my department were together at lunch and one of them made an anti-Semitic remark and I said, "You know, it's amazing that I have never had to resort to those tactics that you ascribe to people of my particular ethnic persuasion." The offender asked, "What does that mean?" My friend John Steinhauer said, "I think she just told you she's Jewish!"
2. I have a mezuzah on the doorpost at my living room door and a visitor asked, "Do you know you have a Hebrew thing on your front door?" When I answered yes the offender promptly launched into an anti-Semitic rant. When questioned, the person admitted that she'd actually never even met a Jew. Obviously she has never been invited to return.
3. Recently, another person whom I see in my aerobics class, made an anti-Semitic remark and after I told her I was Jewish, I could tell that she didn't get the connection between what she said about Jews supposed swindling of people and one's being Jewish. I told her that her term was offensive and she said, "Well, I've said it all my life." and I told her that she's been offensive all of her life. Fortunately, she now avoids me.
4. A woman who was a fellow Board of Trustees member at an organization with me made an anti-Semitic remark and when I confronted her she started to say, "Some of....."; I stopped her before she finished the sentence with "Some of my best friends are Jews," and told her, "I can't let you finish that because that's the most ridiculous thing you could say!" I told her that either she would resign from the Board or I would file a complaint. Fortunately, I never saw her again.
5. A friend of mine was driving her car and heard a commercial from a local car-dealer on a local radio station and the car dealer stated that he could be "Jewed down." My friend pulled her car off the road, called the radio station, and complained. To our knowledge, it has never been replayed, but I telephoned the car dealership to complain. I was SO proud of my friend.
I am constantly amazed that nearly all of the people who make the remarks have actually never even met or known a Jew.