Racially loaded foot-in-mouth extraction, prevention
June 25, 2011 1:52 AM Subscribe
Please help me salvage this situation, if possible. I accidentally said something racist to someone I want to be my friend.
posted by ferngully to human relations (56 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have been taking a sociology class which has opened my eyes to institutional racism and sexism and the gigantic roles they play in shaping society. Thinking about these things has become a new passion for me; I am fascinated by them, possibly obsessed. I see the effects (or think I see the effects) of them everywhere. I'm a white female, 25 years old.
On the one hand, I recognize that my new obsession has probably made me obnoxious to be around. I'm not smart enough to be good at navigating minefields (maybe if I were really smart I'd avoid them entirely) and I'm trying to talk about social problems that are gigantic. I know from family dinners and the like that that combination of factors can lead to a lot of social awkwardness.
On the other hand, my new awareness has triggered some really interesting conversations about life and society with the people around me. Which is what led to tonight.
My friends and I were having this long and meandering conversation about oppression, sex, and race in their general forms, when all of a sudden I decide to ask Joe, who just started dating my best friend, to "please tell us about your experience as, you know, a person of Asian descent." He is the only Asian American in the room. Every one else is white.
He is totally shocked and offended and doesn't answer and I proceed to try to extract my foot from my mouth but it really doesn't work that well and I just sort of blather on and on, apologizing for making him feel awkward but just generally making the situation worse.
My other friends proceed to try to make the best of the situation, as well as they can, which means climbing awkwardly out of the hole I have dug conversationally without changing the subject outright. They knew I 'meant well' and am under the spell of an obsession (and on my third beer) but also knew that this was a big stupid blunder. It dawns on me that I have lived for 25 years without ever really interacting with an Asian American socially outside of school. It seems impossible and yet here I am realizing the novelty of the situation and acting completely idiotically and insensitively because of it. Meanwhile Joe has been navigating white culture for, probably, his whole life? And I have felt the need to point this out for some reason? wtf?
I suspect that part of white privilege manifests itself as being able to ask people of other races "what it is like for them." But I have never done anything like that before, because it's JUST NOT TALKED ABOUT in real life, outside of a classroom, in my experience. Nevertheless I know I fucked up here majorly.
I just need to know what I should do to try to make it up to Joe, since I don't want to be an asshole and he will most likely continue to date my best friend. On top of that I was also, before this incident, hoping he would be my friend too, since I think he's really cool and smart and interesting, etc. What would you do now if you were me? Bonus: what would you think if you were him?