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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Discrimination. [Are you serious?!]

I grew up in a fairly small city, 98% of the population fitting in the "Caucasian" category on their government forms. (ok, maybe even more.)  My maiden name is pretty much on the same level as "Smith" or "Jones" as far as originality, and as you know I am the whitest-white-girl there ever was.

The whole point of this awkward story is that I am completely foreign to discrimination...

Unless you count the fact that people treat me like a 12-year-old because I still don't look like I've graduated middle school.

...or the fact that I had a baby in high school, so people regard the fact that I have 3 kids as completely insane (especially if they fit in the category above: people who think I'm still 12).
`Apparently I was 4 when I had Joshua.

(There's also the fact that I'm not an active Mormon in a largely-LDS population, but this is a different issue.)

Anyway, as you know we are currently searching for employment and apartments.
Two days ago, I called another phone number I found on another sign, in front of another duplex.

The man answered, and I had another conversation identical to all the others:

"Hi, I was driving by and saw a 'for rent' sign. I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about it," I started.

Landlord Man said, "Sure, it's a 3-bedroom," and he continued with the details from there. 

When he finished, I said, "That sounds great; is there a time I could come see it?"

Landlord Man stopped and said, "What was your last name again?" 
(I hadn't told him.)

"Ortega," I said, kind of confused.

"Ok. Thanks for calling." 
-CLICK-

I sat there for several seconds, staring at my phone, which read CALL ENDED.
Did that guy seriously just hang up on me because of my NAME?
Yeah, he seriously did.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about the feeling I got when that happened to me.
I wound up realizing that the more shocking thing than his despicable behavior was that I had never felt that rejection before. I've been rejected from lots of things... but never for the name I carried, and especially not for what I look like.

How spoiled I've been.

Everyone "knows" from a logical standpoint what the state of discrimination/racism is like in this country. But people like me have absolutely no idea what it actually feels like. (I'm aware that I still don't - this is just one tiny situation.)

That very same morning, I stood in line at Work Force Services, waiting to speak to someone about my review paperwork. Two Mexican women stood at the desk next to me, only one of them speaking.

"She got sick on the job," the woman said, gesturing to the other woman. "When she took time off because she was sick, they fired her. She's a seamstress and can't find another job. No one will help us."

The woman at the desk (who looked strikingly like me) just stared at her, bewildered. "Hmm," she kept saying.

Those two women looked beaten down and hopeless, and they left the office without any additional help.

My parents never showed any prejudice toward any type of people. I can't even tell you how grateful I am that I am not one of those people who looks down on others because of their appearance, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc. America, to me, is still what it was supposed to be - land of the free, a melting pot of nationalities, the place where people (should be able to) go without fear and be successful.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. You couldn't help my skin color, but you certainly helped my tolerance and acceptance of all people.

5 comments:

  1. I'm sitting here going, "I so would have called that guy back and reamed him a new one!" BUT, that's me sitting here reading this. I probably in real time, had it happened to me, called my hubby in tears. Some people are just ignorant. Yup, uneducated, arrogant a55es. I'm sorry you had to experience what you did, as I'm sorry so many experience it daily.
    You should call that guy back tomorrow and be all, "Hi, I'm calling about the 'for rent' sign. Who am I speaking with?" and then HANG UP on the jerk. Then find out who you can complain to about his discriminating behavior, just to be a pain in his a55. ;) Can you tell I'm a bit feisty this evening? :)

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  2. Better yet, go back to the house, talk to him on his doorstep, get him to agree to rent the apartment to you because you are appropriately white, THEN tell him your last name. :) If he rejects you then, then you have an iron clad case for discrimination. There are laws against this kind of thing.

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  3. Seriously?!?!?! PLEASE give me that guy's number. I swear I will make him scared to ever answer his phone again.


    Also, I remember fairly well when I realized that I'm not racially prejudiced (or much any sort of prejudice for that matter, as far as I can tell), and I immediately thought about Mom & Dad. It had never occurred to me to have a problem with someone for something other than what they said or did. We tend to be fairly critical of people, but they earn it, you know? I'm not saying that it's right to be generally critical, but at least it's based on their actual behavior, not some stereotype.

    I first noticed the difference between us and lots of other people on my mission. I couldn't believe the things I heard some people say about whole groups. I had never even thought in that sort of blanket statement before. I couldn't fathom it.

    That difference became even more pronounced after I got married and discovered how incredibly bigoted my in-laws were. I've never heard any other group of people make more ignorant, blanket statements. I dealt with it all the time. Usually it was about Utahns (seriously, why do people move somewhere and then complain about the people in the place where they chose to move?!?!?!), but political parties, racial groups, occupations, and many other groups were targets of their ignorant vitriol.

    Mom and Dad – thanks for not being like that!

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  4. Aubrey and Jon,

    I appreciate your words of thanks for raising you to accept people for who they actually are, not as people who are classified by race, skin color, religious background, or any other arbitrary classification.

    This is the first time I can recall that any of my children have thanked me for any of my efforts to raise them to be good people. At least it's the first time I can recall any of them giving a specific example of anything I did or said that impacted them positively.

    It means a lot to me. Thank you.

    Dad

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  5. wow. Thats pretty ridiculous. I am honestly shocked to hear that story. So sorry. You didn't want to live there anyway.

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