Saturday, July 16, 2005

I'm sorry. Do I look like a white supremacist?

Sometimes I wonder about that swastika birth mark on my forehead. Most folks recognize it for what it is: a Harry Potteresque stigmata, proof of my postnatal brush with the ultimate anti-Jew. Others see it as a sign of shared values. It must be there, that swastika. How else can I explain yesterday's patient, a guy who felt it necessary to complain about the Mexican Problem in Southern California? Or any of the dozen patients who, over the years, have bitched to me about all the Mexicans and Asians in our state? What do I say to people like that? ("Mr. Dickwad, I'd like to introduce you to my Japanese-American wife and my half-hakujin son.") Once, back when I taught at UT San Antonio, a patient told me and my Chinese-American resident a Nigger joke. We were, no exaggeration, speechless. After he'd left, we looked at each other. One of us said, "What made him think he could say that to us?" and the other one scratched his balding head. The head with the invisible swastika on it. I'm reminded of that old Saturday Night Live skit in which Eddie Murphy, pretending to be an investigative journalist, gets made up to look like a white man. He then learns what life is like for us white people (such as, we don't have to pay for anything we buy, home loans come no questions asked, etc.) Sometimes I wonder if that world is really out there. Most of the time, folks see me for who I am. Occasionally they goof and assume I'm one of them. Example of the first situation: in early 1990, I interviewed for the ear, nose, and throat residency program at Baylor (Houston, Texas, for those of you across the pond). We had lunch at a great big table with several faculty members, residents, and other candidates. One of the residents said to me (out of the blue -- we hadn't even been talking to one another), "Are you a Jew?" Actually, he said, "Are yeew a Jeeew?" I said yes, and he turned to the department's number two man and said, "Dr. Coker! He's a Jew! That means we could have two in the program!" Example of the second situation: in 1998, we were living in San Antonio and dying of heat exhaustion. Though I loved my job, I could see my wife and son weren't doing well at all. Quietly, I began accepting calls from headhunters. One persistent dude kept telling me about midwestern small town opportunities that sounded, well, icky. (After all, we were trying to escape the heat. Missouri didn't sound like an improvement over Texas.) He called me one day with some Exciting New Opportunities. "This one here's perfect for a young family man like you. A quiet town in Kansas, they got six churches, no crime, wonderful schools --" "Next." "Oklahoma, only forty miles from a major metropolis. They got eight churches, no crime, wonderful schools --" "Next." "We have this one down in New Orleans, but you wouldn't want to know about that. But look here, this one's in Indiana, nice quiet town, no crime --" "No, wait! We like New Orleans." I'm thinking: okay, hot as hell, but we loved that vacation; maybe Karen will consider it . . . "No, Dr. Hoffman, you wouldn't want that one. Too many Nigerians there. Let me tell you about the Indiana job." Five, ten minutes later he tells me about an upstate New York job which wouldn't be right for me because -- you guessed it -- too many Nigerians. So I'm beginning to wonder about this odd ethnic group. I'd known a few Nigerians in residency training. They were nice people. They were -- Oh. Nigerians. It really took me fifteen minutes to figure out that Nigerian was the new code word. Just as my Bostonian grandmother and her racist friends had to stop calling blacks schvartzes (the blacks had figured that one out), this guy couldn't bring himself to say the word. What have we learned today? On the one hand, I get the "You're a Jeeew? We could have another Jeeew!" crowd; on the other, I get the folks who assume I'm one of them. Guess what: I like the first crowd far better than the second. I don't mind being the department's second Jeeew. I do mind being mistaken for a racist. D.


Anonymous Stamper in LV said...

Reminds me of the time when I was in 8th grade, and this boy showed an interest in me til he found out I was Jewish. Every time he saw me, he'd rub his nose (the "dirty Jew sign").
Stamper in LV

7/17/2005 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Remember creepy Eric down the street? The one whose mom was -- gasp! -- a divorcee? He was a real antisemite. Weird thing was, we still hung out together.

I hadn't heard of the nose-rubbing thing.

7/17/2005 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger Demented M said...

No, you look like a hobbit :)

And many people are just asses.


7/17/2005 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

The way I'm put together, Michelle, I don't assume the other guy's an ass (except with that Texan using the N-word. I was pretty sure he was an ass). Instead, I keep wondering what they're seeing in me.

Self-loathing: the key to my success ;o)

7/17/2005 06:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Stamper in LV said...

Actually, I don't remember Eric. I need more info I guess.
The nose rubbing thing, I don't know where that came from.
Stamper in LV

7/18/2005 02:48:00 PM  
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