It’s true, this really happened a couple of weeks ago but I probably should start at the beginning. I had been seated next to a pleasant looking older woman who I didn’t know. She struck up a conversation with me and I could tell by the way that she spoke that she was a bit of a rough diamond: you know what I mean, she seemed kind hearted and funny enough but I had this vivid picture of her in my mind of someone who would go to footy games, swill beer, shout obscenities at the ref/umpire, eat meat pies with sauce straight from the brown, paper bag (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not who I am).
That kind of thing doesn’t bother me because I’m nothing if not tolerant and I was not there to make judgements and come off as conceited: meeting new people is always fun and variety is the spice of life and all experiences help me in my work as a writer and poet. I live in a small country town and there are a lot of ‘country people’ who drive four wheel drives which are vehicles used to go out on the rough terrain and hunt etc. A lot of these vehicles have bumper stickers that say things like “No racism, no action,” which I find very baffling.
But back to the lunch guest: little alarm bells started to go off when she was obnoxious to the waiter – I felt sorry for him because he was just trying to do his job the best he could – and she kept aggressively trying to engage me in conversation when I was conversing with others; apparently she was being ignored.
It was in between the main meal and the dessert that the racist conversations started. Everyone had had a few drinks (I’ d had a few sips of champagne only to fit in but I don’t really like alchohol) by then and people started to relax. I have to remind myself at times like this that everyone’s entitled to their opinions and that of course they don’t know how passionately I feel about racism and so I just let it wash over me like water off a duck’s back and remain silent. But then this guest next to me made a very derogatory remark about a whole race of people: I won’t re-tell the entire conversation because I don’t want to offend anyone but suffice it to say that she used the word “ragtop.” I turned to my husband and told him it was time to leave.
I’ve learnt this in the Italian community: the ambience at mealtimes is to be preserved at all costs and being such a loving, peaceful people if someone steps out of the boundaries of politeness and civility the host or the offended party will announce that they are “going outside to get some air,” or, if they are offended in any severe way they will make an excuse to leave. Italians don’t go for the jugular (not in my experience anyway): they don’t use their words to offend or retaliate but they do use their actions to make a point – drive their message home.
I don’t know if she, the racist guest, took my hint and I’ll probably never see her again (one hopes) but these days I’m all about trying to build awareness for my social causes one of which is racism which is why I touch on this subject in my second children’s book The Blue Seal Of Trinity Cove. You’ll never find me out picketing in the street or entering into heated debates on the subject: I prefer to leave just a little, subtle clue in the mind’s of others that might have them later on thinking to themselves, “gosh, that Linda seemed so nice and kind and funny and yet when I started making racist jokes she just clammed up and then left – maybe I should keep my mouth shut a bit more in the future.” And you never know, maybe some of the bigots that have been taught to hate since birth will actually rethink their entire belief system on the subject, that’s what I pray for anyway.