I have a story to tell.
But first i'd like to say that I am a conversation whore.
That is because I try my hardest to be appealing at my place of business.
See, I am a very Latino looking gentleman, which puts me in a difficult situation because I know nothing about the race most people see me as. I don't speak Spanish. I hate Mexican food. I see myself as white. I actually sometimes forget that my skin is brown. I forget my race. Isn't that amazing?
But that doesn't change the fact that people see me as a strange looking Latino male and after over thirteen years within retail I have learned that in the work environment it is a common occurrence for your typical customer to avoid my help like the plague to go find a white or black male or a female of ANY race to help them instead of me. I regularly ask people if they need help, get brushed away or flat out ignored, only too see them track down a nice looking, pale skinned, cute little Lisa Corbin while actually saying "I could find ANYBODY to help me out there!!!"
And I don't particularly see that as being THAT racist. Hell, if there was a ME-looking guy between me and some white woman at ANY STORE then i'd probably actively avoid me, too. I'd do the same thing to myself. So is it racist? Maybe. But at least I understand.
So I try to be appealing, especially working at a store in Oklahoma that's near a major college where every young man looks like J. Crew clones. I dress overly nice. I slap a big fake smile on my face. I act overly enthused. I study my product.And, most importantly to my eventual story, I converse in a friendly and enthusiastic way with whatever crazy white person bullshit you want to talk about.
I am a conversation whore.
I smile and nod while talking about things I despise just so I can seem friendly and inviting. You bet Bill O'Reilly is a genius! Oh yeah, I agree, the Tea Party is wonderful! Sure, of course Obama is evil! You know what, maybe you're right! Maybe the Democrats WERE the masterminds behind the Pearl Harbor attacks!
Agree agree agree!
Just yesterday I had a ten minute conversation with an old Murder She Wrote fat woman who vehemently believed with all her heart that liberals are having babies JUST so that they can have abortions. And I agreed. Because if this woman was brave enough to be friendly with the scary looking Mexican than the least I can do is hear her out.
But occasionally I actually have a good conversation, a normal one with what I consider a normal person.
A few months ago I was having a conversation with a late 40s woman who was born in Arizona, like me, abd bounced around the nation from state to state before settling down in Oklahoma where she had lived for over a decade.
I felt like I had found a kindred spirit and began telling her that I had been having trouble fitting in here. She said how hard it had been for her, too, but that eventually she cane to love the state and the small town life.
But she warned me that there were still a few pockets of racism in Oklahoma.
This is exactly what she said:
"You'll find a lot of racism in the smaller towns, unfortunately, but as long as you stay away from them then it shouldn't be a problem for you. I mean, heck, as long is you're not living in Shawnee then I'm pretty sure you'll be okay!"
There are so many small towns, redneck villages, really, that litter this state. Oklahoma has so many small towns dotting the map that it looks like a teenager's nose or a close up picture of Edward James Olmos. Millions of cities. Billions of small towns.
She didn't know where I lived. I didn't tell her.
She could have chosen any number of places to be an example of racism.
She chose Shawnee, Oklahoma.
And guess where I live?
Is Shawnee the most racist city in Oklahoma?