This morning, at a Starbucks in Beverly Hills, all I wanted was to have my green tea and scone in peace, reading the news, while waiting for an appointment. It was not to be. Six white dude bros had pushed together tables in the middle of the coffee shop, taken up residence around it and were loudly holding forth on the topic of real estate.
Hearing that, my scone started to taste chalky and I was losing interest in my tea and the news. I could feel my blood pressure rise. I was annoyed enough to move to a table further away, naively thinking they'd get the hint. No such luck. The place was packed with an ethnically diverse clientele and staff on a holiday morning. Everybody there could hear them. I could not stay silent.
I wish I could have had a photographer with me to capture this scene. The very fact of being interrupted seemed to completely take them aback, like they thought there were alone in the place. Or owned it, or something. The question about White supremacy really made for some great facial contortions. Keep in mind, I deliver such lines in a tone akin to asking what the weather is like. I have lots of practice at saying impactful things in just the right tone. Linguists know how to wield language like a weapon. IF ONLY IT WASN'T NECESSARY.
Now their facial expressions turned to... well... use your imagination. It was quite a sight to behold. The above comment did earn me the undivided attention of many onlookers and people at nearby tables. I believe racist dude bros noticed that too. Before they could get a word in, I continued:
Now you could see the anger and outrage flare up, big time. Initially they remained tongue-tied, looked at each other, unsure what to say (I guess). But then:
White supremacist-patriarchical default mode kicked in and I was belittled, insulted, told to shut up, go away, asked what do I know, and what my problem is. The cleverest of the group - or so he seemed to think - deployed a worn out fat slur. Instead of engaging in fat shaming myself by looking around the table at each of them and their physiques and informing them that they could stand to lose a few pounds themselves, thank you very much, I went with "Fat shaming! How 1950s of you!" to put them firmly in their place as cultural throwbacks unfit for the 21st century.
In case you're wondering, I do not ad lib much of this stuff. I have many stock lines ready to deploy in many situations. I would be a liar if I said twitter hasn't vastly enhanced my lethal stockpile of pithy comebacks.
By then everybody in the coffee shop was paying attention. I heard a couple "Way to go!" and "Yeah!" Mission accomplished. Part of confronting racists and bigots is knowing when to retreat. The six dude bros were getting agitated as I said my goodbyes with my "enjoy your troglodyte lifestyle" quip. I left, got on my bike and rode off into the sunrise, or at least into mid-morning. The great thing about biking in LA: no license plates to trace and you can get away from cars 95% of the time, if necessary. 15 minutes later, I circled back to the coffee shop and the racists had departed. All was good again at that Starbucks. It is my hope that each time I do this, the next time the racists I called out will think twice about running off their bigoted mouths in public.
Or, if I feel really hopeful, I think I just might get through to one person some of the time.
Either way, this work must be done.
In recent weeks and months, many White people have asked: I hate White supremacy and it's systemic. I am only one person. What can I do to help dismantle racism in America? I cannot answer that for you. Everybody needs to find their own path to help tear down this lingering abomination in our country that is White supremacy. If you are a White American, you must find your path and then travel it. Words and opinions are fine, but it is actions that matter. The absolute WORST THING White people can do in the face of systemic racism is NOTHING. If you are a White American who loathes White supremacy as much as I do (or perhaps even a little less) remember that one thing is for sure: White supremacists have NO problem acting on their twisted, hateful, bigoted ideology. If you think it's not up to you to actively push back, then who?
In this article I'm describing one path that I have chosen: I will call out or confront racism and all forms of bigotry that occur in my presence as long as it is reasonably safe to do so. This is not for everybody, and it's scary at first. Alas, once you've done it a few dozen or a hundred times, it becomes downright cathartic.
Responses to my tweet stream this morning on twitter have been substantial and 100% positive. I did not see a single dissenting voice telling me I did the wrong thing or to STFU. If some people thought so, they didn't say it. That, too, is progress in my book.