It was a simple moment: two dog-lovers talking happily in the sun as their animals chased each other at the edge of the forest.
To make chit-chat, I said, “There’s less trash than usual.” Often in the early mornings, the public trash receptacles are over-flowing from evening picnickers, before the garbage trucks come to clean up. It’s an issue because my dog is a trash-lover.
He replied, “Yes. There must not have been any Arabs around.”
I metaphorically shook my ears to see if my hearing was working.
He continued, “They’re different from us. They’ve got no regard for cleanliness. I’ve seen their fat women toss trash on the ground without paying any attention.”
I wanted to crush the “us/them” perspective and countered as best as my stunned brain could, “No. It’s all people. We can all be litter-bugs when we forget to pay attention.”
He waved aside my comment and kept talking as if he were right instead of racist.
Later I thought of what I wished I had said:
“I disagree. The Arabs I know are clean, smart, and respectful.”
Or, “I try not to make stereotypical statements like that about groups of people.”
Or, “I remember littering myself on occasion. Does that make me an Arab?”
Or, “Shut up if you can’t say something intelligent.”
As for me, I took note of and eliminated a stereotype of mine: that dog-owners are better than the general population.
Of course, any name of any group that serves as the scapegoat of the moment could replace the word “Arab” in the man’s racist comments.
And of course, nothing I said could have changed the hard heart and small mind of this man who was willing to condemn an entire population because of a cup left on the ground next to a garbage can by some unknown individual.