Filed under: Racism | Tags: gesture, non-verbal communication, Racism, racist, universal
The couple got on the N train and asked in their best English if the train was going to Scent Pearl. I asked them if they meant “Central Park” and if so, yes, it was going there and they settled in. They were from Brazil and delighted that I could understand their English sometimes and occasionally bits of their Portuguese. We had a companionable ride, misunderstanding one another at every turn. (Example: “How long are you here?” “We’ve been married 25 years.”) They told me I was very nice and friendly (I think this is what they were saying) and that they were happy to meet me. I told them I was also happy to meet them. They told me their names and I told them mine. I was pretty pleased to have made a nice connection with some strangers from far away.
Then the man made a gesture that I decided couldn’t possibly be what I thought it was because it was so racist. Then he did it again, bigger and clearer and I heard “chines” and I realized he was, in fact, making an incredibly racist gesture. I said, “No!” which he somehow interpreted as a license to keep going and so followed a series of gestures and sentences I couldn’t understand – but I presume added up to an unfavorable rant about Chinese people. I was horrified. And given the language barriers, I could not figure out what to do. I wished there were a gesture for “That’s Racist.” It would come in handy – not just when there’s a language barrier like this but in situations where it’s just not a good time to have a full discussion. Just a simple hand or finger wave of some kind. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a universal symbol for “That’s sexist,” too. It’s amazing how much racism and sexism can be expressed without language; I would love for a way to express the opposite some way as well.
And unfortunately, given the current climate, we will likely have many many opportunities to use a gesture that expresses that something is racist or sexist. With hate crimes on the rise, it’s ever more essential to address the stuff when it comes up in the moment. It occurred to me that so many people were okay with voting for racist candidates because they didn’t fundamentally understand what racism is. They missed the multitude of racist statements because they didn’t recognize them as the racism they were. If we could do call it out with a gesture, we could register our response and keep moving. We could express ourselves, en mass, when our new elected officials denigrate their target of choice. I don’t know how gestures become popularized, but now is the moment for us to get one.
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