So I’m biking along a mostly-deserted stretch of road north of Longmont and it’s hot as the Devil’s ballsack out there. I’m two-thirds of the way through my three liter camelback, and I’ve looped around to go back into town before I turn into a crispy strip of people leather on a bike. Another cyclists goes past me. Yells to ask if I’m going back toward Lyons, because he’s lost. Sure. I can point him in the right direction, since there are detours and things are a little confusing. We ride side by side for a while and talk about the things boring-ass adults do:
Training for something in particular? Nah, just riding for fun. You do triathlons, dude? Good for you.
What do you do for a job? I’m unemployed.
Oh, well, ever think about teaching? I’m not really looking to be a full-time teacher, but I’m thinking maybe I could get in as a substitute to help make ends meet.
Look at private schools, my new friend says. You could teach science or math. Yeah, teach one of those AP math classes. They’re full of fucking Asians.
My brain is one giant record scratch. WHAT?
And my fellow cyclist, who until this moment had just been ye olde average slightly egotistical white dude, pedals away. I let him.
I wish I’d had the wherewithal to just ask him what the fuck he even meant, saying that. I’m not even asking for a witty comeback here. I’ve managed to kick myself into motion before, in a situation where someone in a conversation dropped a pointed comment about “oh you know, those people” and I looked him in the eye and said, actually I don’t know, why don’t you tell me what you mean by that. Funny how quickly the topic changed. But now? I am still kicking myself over the fact that I pedaled slowly along, sweat dripping in my eyes, and tried to wrap my brain around the fact that someone had just fucking said that, and thought it was an all right thing to drop in a conversation with a random stranger.
I know none of this is a surprise to anyone who isn’t so pale they glow in the dark. But I’m writing this out is for my best friend, who has two mixed-race daughters and keeps running across people who believe shit like this doesn’t happen in their happy city. Well, it does. This isn’t just your embarrassing relative that you can’t unfriend on Facebook because it would cause a stink. This is a total stranger thinking that this is a welcoming environment in which to be casually racist.
I went on a wild tear on Twitter a while ago about one of the effects of bi-erasure that I really hated when I was married to a man–that random people would feel free to voice some very homophobic/transphobic stuff to me, because they assumed I was a straight woman and therefore on their “team.” I hated it in that context because then I had to make a snap decision over if I should out myself, or if I should let an asshole think that my stunned silence meant I agreed with them. I guess this is another thing like that, where certain people see that I’m a pasty motherfucker and assume that therefore I’m on the team. The only difference is instead of punching at me, they’re insulting my nieces and my friends and a whole enormous population of people who have never done anything to deserve this bullshittery.
I hate it. I hate that this guy on the road probably pedaled off thinking I was totally amused by his fucked-up “joke” because I couldn’t manage more than a strangled, disbelieving, “WHAT?” before he was out of earshot. But I’m also at a loss as to what I should do. It’s like walking into a glass door. Oh look, a random stranger just assumed I’d be okay with this and I have no good response because I’m still trying to process what the fuck even did you just say. At least if it had been at a bar, I could have poured my drink on him.
I still have no witty comeback. If I had that moment to do over again, I would have yelled, “No. That is not okay.” And then he would have fucked off, probably, or I would have spent god knows how long arguing with some random guy about how he’s Totally Not Racist It Was Just A Joke What’s My Problem Anyway. I don’t really think the latter makes anyone reassess their viewpoint, but I’d settle for getting him to shut the fuck up so my nieces don’t ever have to hear it.