When I was a little girl, there were these ads that aired on the Spanish language channels where my mom would catch all her telenovelas. In between scenes of sexy-yet-virginal women experiencing their first male touch in a sunset-lit stable on Ca ñ averal de Pasiones, an ad would come on showing a parent flirting dangerously with child abuse.
A tired-looking mom would be slaving away ironing her (I assume) ungrateful husband's shirts when her child comes running in and knocks over the ironing board. As Mexican moms often do, this lady loses it. Then as she raises her hand to beat the ignoramus out of the fruit of her womb, a red light flashes. "Stop! Don't hit. Take a deep breath and count to 10." The mom then cools her child-smacking jets and calmly explains the importance of watching where you're going when women are ironing, or something like that. Basically, mom counting to 10 saved this kid a savage third-degree slap burn and she would remember to not resort to violence when someone did something stupid.
That commercial flashes in my brain every time I hear someone spout racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist and downright ignorant comments in person or on the Internet, where all the shitheads come out of the asshole woodwork to play. As of late, this commercial has been blaring in my mind non-stop. What with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (Hint: He has hair that looks like a backwards merkin made out of a strawberry blond yeti's taint pubes) calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers (but some are okay, the taint-pubed one begrudgingly admitted), people defending the Confederate flag and what seems like 50,000 other examples, I've been closing my eyes and counting to 10 so much I might be considered a narcoleptic now.
Anyone who falls into a minority, whether it stems from their race, sexual orientation, gender or other characteristics, has dealt with ignorance. Sometimes it's well meaning or comes from a lack of awareness rather than pure discrimination, and sometimes it's hate-filled and disgusting. In either case, it can be pretty infuriating.
When I explained to my college boyfriend that my family moved from San Diego back to Mexico when I was 12, he asked why we would "regress" like that. Another former boyfriend's dad asked if I thought Mexican water gave my dad the cancer that eventually took his life. Firstly, man, I've dated some idiots. Secondly, what the hell is wrong with people? Why do they think these are okay questions to ask? And worse, why do they think this way at all? This is ridiculous! Oh man, here comes the flashing red light. Deep breath. Count to 10.
Over the years, I've tried various methods of dealing with these sort of comments. The worst was ignoring them or laughing with people because I wanted to fit in. When I thankfully outgrew that, I attacked. That led to screaming matches and trolls setting me off on purpose. It was exhausting on my body and soul, and I found rarely changed minds. Then one day I just stopped, took a deep breath and explained to some idiot why their comment was inappropriate and/or just plain wrong. That's what I still do. If I can cite specific studies, articles or facts, I throw those in too as a hadouken.
Turns out a version of this method I adopted from those Mexican adverts is also recommended by the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC), an organization that provides resources and training for people, communities and organizations for solving conflicts in a civil manner. I recently took a diversity training course from the NCRC, where I learned about the Aikido style of conflict resolution.
Based on the Aikido form of martial arts, where a practitioner uses their opponent's energy and momentum to redirect an attack, the Aikido style of communication involves listening in a non-reactive manner, letting go of your ego, responding respectfully and troubleshooting with your opponent in a non-confrontational way.
When the NCRC trainer asked me how I deal with conflict, I admitted how difficult it is to be civil and understanding when someone is incredibly offensive. It cuts you deep, but all I can do, it seems, is explain and educate and continue to do that as much as necessary, knowing I will see my grave before I ever see the day I no longer have to do this. The Aikido style often feels impossible and unfair. Someone in the room asked a question that anyone who's ever confronted ignorance has asked, too.
"Why does the burden of educating have to fall on Alex, or anyone for that matter? Why can't these people learn to not be ignorant? Why do we have to explain things?î
Sigh. All the sighs forever. I'm in a sigh factory mass producing sighs for Sigh-kea. The burden always falls on everyone except those who perpetrate ignorance and hatred. We're expected to coddle people into understanding the concept of equality and respect and never lose our cool in the process. It is our burden. "If Alex yells she becomes the stereotypical angry Mexican woman," said another attendee.
"I am an angry Mexican woman," I admitted aloud.
It's hard not to be an angry anything when faced with ignorance or discrimination. But all we can do is breath deep and continue to explain.