Here is an actual phone call conversation that I had at work yesterday. It works better if, in your head, you speak the “Him” lines in a slow, laboring, Southwest-country drawl.
Me: This is Mike …
Him: Yeah, you the main writer over there?
Me: Are you looking for the editor?
Me: The editor. Are you looking to speak with the editor?
Him: I don’t (grumbles) … What’s his name?
Me: Her name is Carolyn.
Him: Well you tell him, I wanna know what “Hispanic” means.
Me: I’m sorry?
Him: I wanna know what “Hispanic” means.
Me: No, I heard you. I mean, what are you talking about? Are you being serious right now?
Him: Welp, ya'll guys did an article here (flipping through papers; I imagine he is licking his fingers as he does so) on some kind of “Hispanic” breakfast, and I wanna know what “Hispanic” means.
Me: Alright, I’m not really liking the tone of this conversation or where it’s going. But I’ll bite—do you honestly not know what the term Hispanic means?
Him: (grumbles) I wanna know what “Hispanic” means.
Me: “Hispanic” in a nationally-recognized term for those of Spanish descent, whether they originate from Spain, Mexico, Latin America, Cuba, or whatever.
Him: Welp, just what I figured. The Mexicans want to hide their nationality.
Me: Wow. Okay, that’ll be enough for today.
Him: Let me ask you this, let me ask you this—what’s YOUR nationality, huh? What are YOU?
Me: What does it matter? What are you, racist?
Him: No, I’m an American!
Me: Okay, thank you. Please never call here again.
I’m certainly not naïve enough to think racism doesn’t still exist, but I gotta say—it takes a special kind of crazy to call up a weekly newspaper to complain about a feature story that no person in his right mind could find offensive. I mean, Racist A calling to complain about something like, “Local Hispanic leader rallies against immigration law” is one thing. Racist B calling to complain about, “Local Hispanics eat breakfast, talk about stuff,” is quite another. Both complaints are totally wrong, but the latter is mind-boggling. In my head, I imagine this man scrounged up change from underneath a couch cushion that wasn’t his, but placed near the street for trash pickup, and then located the only pay phone within a 50-mile radius to call and voice his complaint, and when he returned to his dilapidated shack that contains 12 parakeets, he proudly informed his wife, who wears an eye patch, how he had boldly expressed his Americanism over dinner, which was a bowl of Coca Puffs.