I’m not exactly the best with social cues, but I’ve been known to at least take a hint. So ending up accidentally dating a shockingly racist woman was quite the unexpected plot twist for a generally conscientious, open-minded, and amiable guy from Connecticut.
How could I have missed this glaring issue with a woman -- one I went on dates with, spent time with, even liked?
It was the summer after I had suffered the kind of breakup in which the pain can only be soothed with bottles of liquor, junk food, and introspective sessions of listening to Jeff Buckley in the dark.
I had actually met the girl in question 10 years earlier at the mall where I used to putz around and cause trouble with my idiot friends. I always remember her being cute, if a bit reserved. Despite the fact that we shared a similar taste in music and hair dye, we never used to hang out.
We came back into each other’s lives by chance, through a surprise encounter at a dingy little coffee shop called The Whole Donut. It’s a play on words! Donut holes! Get it?
Anyway, she walked in and we instantly recognized each other. One thing led to another and we found ourselves at the darkest dive bar in town, where we flirted through a few rounds of beers and ended up making out in her car.
We seemed to have a lot in common. We talked about all the cute shit that everybody pretends to be interested in within the initial week of getting to know someone: Wes Anderson movies, road trips, coffee, people-watching, that stupid game where you make up backstories for people at restaurants.
The very first hint that something was... not quite right... came about during a walk in the local game reserve. (If you haven’t gone on a date in a game reserve, I highly recommend it. Awkward moments can be easily dispelled by pointing up at a tree and going, “Aw man, what a stunning tree.”)
We were about a mile into the walk when she recalled a story that had happened to her the previous summer. It went like this:
“Have you gone tubing on the river yet?” she asked.
“Dude, you have to do it, it’s amazing."
“Ugh, though I went last year and the whole thing was ruined by these assholes on the other side of the bank.”
“Yeah, these black guys started talking to me -- and I had had, like, seven beers at this point -- and they asked me to use my tube or something.”
“Yeah, so I called them a bunch of porch monkeys and they got so mad!"
I stopped walking, feeling like someone had shoved their fist down my throat.
“Yeah, my friend who was with me had to apologize to them and explain to them how I had just had too much beer.”
She laughed, as if she was recounting a story about accidentally passing gas in front of a boyfriend’s parents or something. I continued on with the walk in silence. She asked me what was wrong. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been difficult to state quite clearly what was wrong, but in the moment, it was. Instead, I bravely blamed my silence on an upset stomach.
The mind can perform some impressive mental gymnastics when you don't want to believe something. I once wrote off a full guilty confession of a girlfriend’s infidelity as a miscommunication. So, given my previously established lonely state, my mind flipped around like a damned Olympian. I told myself that she would never knowingly say that kind of slur out loud, let alone in such a targeted, malicious fashion. I told myself that she had simply been intoxicated and wasn’t thinking clearly. I told myself she felt compelled to share said story with me because... well, I didn't have a great answer for that one, but I forged ahead anyway.
There is, unfortunately, too much racism in my generation -- likely because we remain a product of all the equally racism-laden generations that preceded us. It takes different forms. There's that latent baby boomer racism that leads white parents to inquire quizzically about every non-white person you know or drop not-really-OK words like "mulatto." Then there's the more overt, almost performative racism that should make any mentally sound person feel sick. I recognize that as a privileged white person I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to be at the business end of this kind of thinking and treatment, whether it's insidious and subtle or frighteningly flagrant.
So, it says a lot about the state I was in that I was able to chalk up such blatant hate as a “misunderstanding.” However, she wasn't done.