I was in Chicago most of last week for a conference. My last night in town, which happened to be St. Patrick's Day, some friends and I went to the Funky Buddha to hang out. Directly across the street from the Funky Buddha is an Irish bar. (I'm sure you can tell where this is going by now.) As my girl Renee, one of her old co-workers Ben, and I made our way past the Irish bar as we walked to Ben's car, a group of white people walked out of the Irish bar. As we walked through this group of white people, one of the drunk white guys says to me, in a very nasty and condescending tone, "Are you a mulatto -- Who's your daddy?" As if to imply that he had just finished raping my black mother. Ben immediately turned around and asked, "What the hell did you just say?" I immediately turned around and asked, "What did you say to me?" One of the white women in their group (who clearly had issues with this guy already) points to him and literally screams "You're a disgrace!!" (Although it wasn't quite clear whether she was referring to his inappropriate comments or something that happened earlier.) The guy back peddles a little at that point and says we just walked into the middle of a bad situation. Ben then encouraged us to move on as that situation was not going to get any better.
Okay, seriously, who says that to someone? The three of us, still stunned by the comments, went to breakfast and had a good laugh about it. However, it's really not funny at all, and is in fact very sad. It's 2006. Yes, 2006, and white folks still think it is okay to make comments like that to black folks.
Quick history lesson courtesy of Ben. The origin of the word "mulatto" is from the Spanish and Portuguese word "mula," which means "mule." And as Ben pointed out, a mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse. The fact that white folks (not all, I know there are exceptions) think it is okay to refer to me as a mulatto, and then ask who's my daddy, is a problem.
So that's the story. The lesson is this: Don't sleep. Racism is alive and well. Many white folks may be able to mask their racism most of the time, but trust that it is embedded in the back of their heads, and only takes some liquor to bring it out.