Thursday, July 5, 2007

You People

So the first thing you should know when reading today's post is that I live in a fairly crunchy-liberal-progressive little town, one that currently has the highest tax bracket in the state because there is a tiny downtown area and not many businesses--largely, it's a residential community that abuts Southern University and traditionally people who lived in my small-crunchy college town were working class and affiliated with the university in the sense that they had jobs there, non-faculty ones. As the 70s and 80s came around, more graduate students and eventually faculty, from Southern U. bought homes and before you can say "gentrification" housing prices were shooting up. If anyone lives in the SF Bay Area or NYC, perhaps this will be a familiar tale, although the fact that average home prices in my town are still below $300,000 is probably laughable to anyone who has tried to buy a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home in the Bay Area.

At any rate, I had run-in with the phrase "you people" today as I was walking my dog around my neighborhood. It's a pretty sleepy little neighborhood, in fact, the street where the altercation happened doesn't even have sidewalks. As I'm walking on the final stretch to home, a brown dog, of indeterminate breed, pops out of nowhere and approaches us. I look around for the owner, but can't see anyone, and the dog is off leash and fast approaching. Now, the backstory to my impending discomfort about this situation is that I used to have a dog, Luther, who was very violent when approached by dogs off leash and have had some AWFUL things happen with dogs off leash approaching him when he's on leash (dogowners understand the whole off vs. on leash phenomenon with dogs. Off leash, both dogs are usually OK. On leash, it's a different story, and when one is on and the other is off, all bets are often off). Anyway, I was nervous and a the dog came over and started to sniff Bruno (and Bruno sniffed back) I called around for the owners and asked if they could please call their dog and get him away from my dog because I wasn't sure what Bruno would do on-leash to an off-leash dog.

At this point, the dog's owner, a white man in his late 40s or possibly early 50s, standing next to a white pick-up truck, calls over his dog and then starts to speak to me in an overly aggressive tone of voice, asking me if I lived on this street, and if not, I should stop walking my dog on his street because it was my own damn fault for walking my dog in front of his home (we were actually on the opposite side of the street from this man's house, but apparently, even the width of the road wasn't wide enough for my infraction of walking my dog) and that "YOU PEOPLE" should get off the damn street and mind your own damn business.

Now, as I was first sorting out all of this information, my first delayed reaction was, "Huh? You mean, he's not apologizing, he's acting hostile?" and then I of course took offense and asked him who he meant by "YOU PEOPLE" and that I had every right to walk my dog on this street--it was a public street and I wasn't doing anything wrong. At which point (because now I've engaged him and moreover, confronted him with his own irrationality) he gets even more hostile and he isn't quite screaming but he's definitely talking in a LOUD VOICE and keeps repeating the phrase "YOU PEOPLE" and "OFF MY DAMN STREET" in different variations as Bruno and I made our way back home.

And of course, I couldn't help but think, what did he mean by "YOU PEOPLE":

*Asian Americans?
*Dog Owners who used leashes when walking their dogs?
*non-Southern accented people?
*Uppity Women of Color who talk back to white Southern men?
*Overly educated, liberal, hippy, crunchy-granola, property tax raising, gentrifying, not-from-here Yankees who turn down their noses on the local people for their seemingly red neck/ignorant/racist/in-bred/no-class/no culture ways?
*All of the above?

In the flush of anger, I thought about calling Animal Services and reporting his dog being off leash, and I thought of calling the police and complaining about the verbal harassment and intimidation. But as I calmed down and came home, I decided to wait. And partly it's fear. I don't live far from this man, and my own stereotypes of white Southern men are alive and well--and perhaps it's unfair for me to classify him as an irrational bigot who would have no problem retaliating against me and Bruno for reporting him, but I do fear that. And I also realized that I also spoke up against him, as was my right, in part because I am all of the above in the "You People" column (although I'd like to think I'm not so condescending towards native Southeners, but lets face it, I'm an overly educated liberal-progressive English professor from the West), and I thought it was important for me to stand my ground against his hostile tirade and irrational anger against me and Bruno--because I didn't want to be a silent Asian American woman.

But now, where do I go from here? I'm not sure. But I don't doubt that race was a subtext for this entire encounter, even if it wasn't true for him, it certainly was for me.

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