I'll be in attendance at Rock Out Against Racism tonight, sponsored by Section 8 Chicago, the supporters' group for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club at Toyota Park. I hadn't given much thought to the pre-game concert, except as a "bonus" entertainment to the ongoing tailgating revelry I've been enjoying this season. But in a week, I've personally witnessed three acts of racism which I find deplorable. Being a middle-aged white guy, I am typically not a victim of racism, but that's no reason for me to turn a blind eye. Admittedly, too, I live in a very white neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest side, and all three incidents happened there.
1) Last weekend, my wife and I were taking a walk and an African-American fellow asked us for directions. It struck me only as a little odd, because he was wearing a whole lot of beads (like at Mardi Gras) in September, and he was lost in our neighborhood. We set him off in the right direction and by chance steered ourselves in the same direction walking down a different block. Having done so, we caught sight of him again, but being yelled and harassed by a very large man driving by in a pick up truck as we were crossing the busy street. I didn't quite catch what the man yelled, but it sure wasn't "welcome to the neighborhood". I never thought I'd witness drive-by racial jeers in my neighborhood, but there you have it. 2) The second incident involved a customer whose computer I was servicing. This young man seemed a bit dimwitted to start. When I do service calls in peoples' homes, there is often frank discussion about the outsourced service industry. The major computer manufacturer for whom I do contract work has its phone support base in India. Customers often complain they are connected to phone support in India and speak to people with thick accents. This man took it a step further and referred to them derisively as "a bunch of Habibs." It reminded me of the turban-wearing stereotype of a terrorist we've seen in the recent past. Ironically the literal translation of "Habib" in Arabic is "sweetheart." I wouldn't even begin to educate this man on the multi-racial, and multi-religious and quite fascinating culture of India. I do typically explain when a customer complains that they do typically speak perfect English, though the accents and the phone static do make communication difficult. I know this because I talk to the same people every day. They are always exceedingly polite. 3) And then this morning, at 8am I woke up and took a walk in the park near my house as I typically do. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a white can that looked like a spray can and said to myself "oh great, there must be fresh graffiti nearby". And sure enough, it didn't take long to find the giant swastika spray painted on the walking path. And then the second one on the field house sign, and another one and another. I retrieved the spray can, and waited around for the park district security to show up, which they promptly did at 8:30am. Since I had found the spray can that belonged to the swastikas I felt relieved to at least alert the staff to what they would eventually discover and clean up.
So racism is alive and well. The three small stories documented here, all happened in the course of my week. They describe, perhaps, not an epidemic, but a reason to speak out. Racism in all forms is a scourge which rears its ugly head over and over through acts such as harassment, stereotyping, and terror-symbolism as I've described. This cycle of normalization is difficult to stop; the counter force of education and awareness must be the side I stand on and support.