The Day I was Called a “Sand Nigger” by a Tea Party Follower!

By Teo Sagisman, Religion Nerd

The “N” word, one of the vilest and most disgusting words in English language!  Every American knows not to use it to address anyone unless they mean to denigrate their target.  It has been over a year since my encounter with the man who called me a “sand nigger,” and yet, it seems like yesterday.  I was reminded of the incident the other day when I read about the story of an e-mail which included a photo-shopped image of President Obama’s face superimposed on the body of a baby chimpanzee.  

This email was created and distributed by Marilyn Davenport, a 74-year-old Tea Party activist and a GOP official from Orange County California.  After receiving strong condemnation for her inappropriate depiction of our President, she issued an apology insisting that she was “an imperfect Christian” who tried to “live a Christ-like honoring life.”  Religion, bigotry, and politics—all tangled in to one nice political movement that has managed to add yet another venomous layer to American Politics!

The Davenport story revived memories of a personal and painful experience with a Georgia Tea Party follower and made me wonder if a racist mindset is part of the Tea Party’s allure.   

The memory of the incident is still fresh.  It all started when my wife, Heather, and I decided to go to a popular Atlanta thrift shop in search of some used books.  As usual, the parking lot was full and Heather exited the car while I searched for a parking spot.  Finding the lot full, I attempted to exit the parking lot and chanced upon an elderly man sitting idle in the middle of the exit lane—holding traffic at a standstill.  Engaged in conversation with another patron, the man seemed oblivious to the waiting cars.  I assumed he would soon wrap up his conversation and sat in wait for him to clear the roadway.  After a minute or two, the cars behind me began to honk their horns in frustration.  The man glanced at me and the waiting cars, turned, and continued his conversation.  

As the horns behind me became more persistent, I rolled my window down and kindly addressed the elderly man.  “Excuse me sir.  You are blocking the traffic, could you please move aside?”

His response was unexpectedly hostile.  In an angry southern drawl, his face contorted in rage, he turned on me and responded: “You cannot ask anything of me.  I do not answer to your kind!”  

His response hit me as if he had slapped my face.  Stunned, I retraced my actions and decided that I had not done anything to incur his venom.  My request was legitimate and his actions were obviously determined by his dislike of my “kind.”  But, what exactly was my “kind?”  Curious, I inquired, rather naively, “Why can’t I ask you to move?  What do you think my kind is?”

This time his response made me regret my attempt to further engage him.  “You are not entitled to speak to me.  You are nothing but a Sand Nigger—that is what you are!”

This time I felt like I had been punched in the stomach!  I regretted my inquiry, but my mind was going a mile minute.  How could anyone talk to another person in such demeaning way?—and for no apparent reason except for his own twisted hatred of those he perceived to be “unlike” him.  Encountering his unwarranted acrimony, I wondered if he might have been an inspiration for a character in the movie Deliverance.  I was as furious as I was indignant!  What made him think he was superior to anybody?  I sat stunned and visibly upset, but before I could react to what had just occurred, he rolled up his window and pulled out of the parking lot.      

The traffic jam now freed of its instigator; I pulled into a vacated parking spot.  As I exited my vehicle, I looked at the numerous patrons who had witnessed, and heard, the verbally vicious encounter.  They tried not to meet my eyes and I wondered if they were embarrassed at his words, agreed with his assessment, or if they were ashamed that they remained silent.  It was then that I noticed the racist asshole hadn’t left the area but had pulled across the street and parked in front of the Post Office. 

Without thinking, I determined to confront him and his disgusting attitude.  I would not take his insults and let him have the last word.  This guy did not know me; he demeaned me purely based on my looks and my accent.  My olive complexion, dark hair, beard, and accent had obviously initiated his racist anti-immigrant rant.  I am aware that in the eyes of some Americans, “not white means not right” but I was determined not to allow his loutish slurs to go unchallenged.  I wanted an explanation for his tirade, a look, if you will, into a mindset that is totally beyond me. 

He noticed my approach and assumed a defiant posture.  As I got closer to his new model burgundy van, I could not help but notice that his license plate was from a rural Georgia county or the sacred (religious and political) symbols on his bumper and back window.  I wondered at how he perceived these symbols.  As I approached the vehicle, I made note of the McCain/Palin bumper sticker displayed prominently on the rear window.  The bumper itself was adorned with a Tea Party bumper sticker sandwiched between a Jesus Fish and a What Would Jesus Do sticker.  At that moment, I realized I was dealing with a genuine politically-conservative religiously-Christian bigot.

 As he saw me coming, he yelled:  “Don’t get near me!”  I snapped back: “Who do you think you are to call me such vile names.  I did absolutely nothing to warrant such disrespect.”  Sadly, he blurted a slightly expanded version of the same crap again.  

“Don’t you dare speak to me?  You are not entitled to speak to me.  Why don’t you get on the damned boat you came in and go back to your fucking country?”  I yelled back “I live here.  I am an American and it is my right to live here!”  To which he responded, “All of you sand niggers and foreigners need to leave us alone and go back to where you came from!”

At that moment, I found myself wanting to offend him as much as he offended me and my response surprised me as much as it infuriated him.  I looked into his hate filled eyes and said, “I’d rather be a sand nigger than an ignorant half baked inbred racist like you!”  I could not believe what came out of my mouth!  I saw his color change from pale white to a purplish red; his face contorted in rage.  I thought he probably wished the federal laws that protected the rights of ALL citizens, especially the minorities, did not exist so he could openly arrange a lynching for me!

At that moment, I realized that I would not get an explanation for his offensive rhetoric and any further attempt to do so would probably end with the police being called to the scene.  I didn’t like his ideology but also didn’t like how angry it made me.  Staring at his contorted purple face, I shrugged and said, “You’re not worth it.”  And with that assessment, I turned and a walked away. 

Furious at my dismissal of him, he began screaming after me.  “Don’t you turn your back on me you sand nigger, you are a sand nigger!  Go back to your fucking country!”

Walking away was not easy as my fury compelled me to do more than throw words, but I knew from past encounters with other bigots that there is no way to argue with them; their judgment clouded by years of unsubstantiated hatred.  

That was the end of my encounter with the Tea Party enthusiast who found the idea of a McCain/Palin presidency comforting as the Jesus stickers provided cover for his intolerant (un-Christian)  ideology toward those he considers not “real” Americans.  

I consider myself an American, part of this fantastically diverse society.  Although, born in Istanbul, Turkey, I have been living in the U.S. for more than half my life, a naturalized citizen for many years.  This was not my first encounter with discrimination or racism but over the last few years, I have noticed an increase—an almost frenzied need—by some Americans to find a target, someone to blame for society’s woes.  Yet this xenophobic lout managed to set my teeth on edge.  His predetermined categories created only one place for me in his worldview—the enemy—an intruder on his land, and one not deserving of respect.

It has been a little over a year since this incident but I find that it has changed my psyche in profound ways.  Although I know this “Deliverance” type mentality is something embraced by a minority of Americans and that the majority are, like my wife, welcoming, compassionate, and tolerant of other cultures and races, I am fearful of the media hype and political power accorded to those who push their paranoid, hate filled agenda.  I am distrustful of Tea Party statements of inclusivity because of my experiences with the thug at the thrift store as well as other Tea Party enthusiasts I encountered over the last few years.  This shocking encounter, so sharp in my memory, was also a valuable learning experience.  Whenever I find myself slipping toward a negative generalization and categorization of all Tea Party followers, McCain/Palin supporters, and Christians as insufferable racists, I am reminded of the hatred I experienced and, I remember what I do NOT want to become.  Denigrating ALL for the actions of a FEW is futile and only adds to an already saturated divisive atmosphere.  I can’t change the angry old white man I encountered but I can be aware of the slippery slope he chose to go down.  I choose not to go there.

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