I almost didn’t write this post today.
There is so much turmoil going on in the world, this post just felt like one more brick in the wall of foolishness that is being built in and around us. However, sometimes that best way to fight foolishness is to call it out and share that lesson with others. So, let me get on my soapbox and start educating.
Yesterday, I had to go get some lab work done. No worries, friends, Hilary with One L is healthy and strong. I went over to the Quest Diasnostics lab, handed in my form and was called back to the phlebotomists’ station. The phlebotomist working with me was a young, rotund guy, probably around my own age. He had closely cropped red hair and a gingery goatee threaded with white. He had tattoos on each of his forearms in what looked like Olde English font, but could have been Celtic runes, ancient Irish alphabet or Swahili for all I know. When he spoke to me to get my information, his accent told me he was most certainly not from Virginia, let alone the US. Needless to say, there was a lot about him that made me take note.
As he prepared to draw my blood, he observed my super tiny veins and chastised me for not being properly hydrated. He assured me that he’d been doing this job for 14 years, had worked on infants, and was confident he’d get the vein. As he tied the rubber tubing around my bicep, he kept chatting and asked me, “So, are you a half-breed?”
What. The. ENTIRE.Hell.
My eyes, which had been watching his fingers search for a vein, flew up to his face. My brain shifted into DEFCON 1, RED ALERT! RED ALERT! flaring up and pinging off my neurons. My mouth opened, but my brain was so busy scrambling to process and generate multiple appropriate and inappropriate responses, nothing came out.
What? Did he just ask me if I was a half-breed? Who says that? Seriously? What is this – 1815? Holy shit. This is a teachable moment. Wait, why is that my job? I should say something. I should walk out. There’s a needle in my arm, though. Why do you even want to know? Who cares? I’m going to say something. I am not going to answer the question. I won’t give him the satisfaction. There’s a needle in my arm, though. I’m going to school this fool, first. Stupid needle.
My subconscious kicked in and my mother’s voice filled my ears as if she was standing right on my shoulder. “Oh, no. Do not – do not – respond without correcting this situation”. It felt like an eternity, when it was really about two seconds.
Making the most direct eye contact I could, and putting some bass in my voice, I said, “We do not use the word ‘half-breed’. It is rude and inappropriate. The more acceptable term is ‘mixed’ , if you must use anything, and no, I am not.”
He started to backpedal, his mouth overflowing with words like, ‘sorry’ and ‘I just thought. . .’ and ‘you look like. . .’ — to which I just let my silence tell him what I thought. He continued to explain himself, that he was
a half-breed mixed, his mother was Norwegian and his father was African. “You know,” he said as he kept changing vials on the port snaking out of my arm, “the whitest of the white and the blackest of the black.”
He said that. In all seriousness. And then he paid me a compliment.
Am I really having this conversation right now?
I was dehydrated, hungry and a little light-headed, but this actually happened. I got out of there as quickly as possible, but not before re-iterating the inappropriateness of the exchange.
I don’t know what make me more upset:
- the use of ‘half-breed’
- that my ethnic background is open for question by a stranger. Again.
- the likelihood that my words fell on deaf-ears.
You know, when I spoke with Mona and Dodai last month, one topic we touched on was how people put labels on you in an effort to make themselves feel better. If you can easily identify someone as Black, White, male, female, young, old or what have you, you have a construct on how to interact with them. I filed the phlebotomist under white, young, male, medical service provider. His file for me was incomplete, so rather than using the information readily available – young(-ish),female, patient – he sought more information that was not pertinent to my purpose for being there. And I’m pretty sure it said African American on the documentation I provided to him. And if he asked in order to fill the silence during the blood draw, there are way more appropriate topics from which to choose.
I’m not confrontational. I’ve often said that when I’ve been asked inappropriate questions about my ethnicity, the paternity of my children (yes, that’s happened more than once), or why I don’t want to be petted like a sheep, — all by complete strangers — I’m so taken aback, I’ve got no response at all. The time it’s happened, — that time in Target with V — I was ready. This time, I was ready. I struggle with that, though, that being at the ready, being on the defensive. I struggle with wanting to verbally cut someone down for being foolish, but at the same time, teaching them the right way so someone else isn’t the recipient of their ignorance. It’s a balancing act, one that I think I successfully navigated yesterday.
And if my interaction with the phlebotomist evaporated from his brain in the time it took me to walk out the door, at least my re-telling of it here may help someone think before they speak.
Have you ever acted on a teachable moment? How did it work out? Tell us in the comments!