My dearest Gertrude,
This will be my final letter to you in the year of our Lord 2019. I write to you from afar, out here in the suburbs, fighting through yet another holiday season with my family. Please keep in mind throughout this letter that I am grateful for everyone in my life, except for my racist Uncle Stalwell.
As you know, I have lived my entire adult life as if I were born in 1813 England as a gentlemanly Port Warden. And yet, at our Christmas celebration, my uncle is the one who was called “old-fashioned” after he made an inappropriate joke about slavery.
“Not ‘old-fashioned’,” I retorted. “He’s ‘racist’. I’m the ‘old-fashioned’ one! I’m the one wearing a high-collared Excelsior dress shirt, a Vaughan burgundy crown top hat, and black leather riding boots! A Gillespie Brushed Cotton Frock Coat with a faux ivory Filigree walking stick and white formal dress gloves! For heaven’s sake, I rode here on my horse!”
Darling Gertrude. This is when I got the lecture that my uncle grew up “in different times.”
“If only one could be so lucky!” I said, stamping my cane and pointing my waxed goatee skyward. “What I wouldn’t give to have grown up over 100 years ago. You just can’t make friends with a Tesla like you can with an Orlov Trotter! But please, stop mincing words: I—Reginald Porterfield Graves—am ‘old-fashioned’. Uncle Stalwell is ‘racist’.”
I pointed out that “growing up in different times” is not an excuse for Uncle Stalwell to have a custom ringtone saying “it’s your sister!” in an offensive Chinese accent.
“The reason you all are laughing or blushing is because it’s an inappropriate Chinese accent. You don’t find it humorous, you find it uncomfortable, because this is textbook racism! Not textbook high class,” I said, harumphing.
Being old-fashioned is an excuse to take sponge baths by candlelight and to shamelessly suckle on squares of candy anise! Not for insensitivity and cultural mockery.
We then moved on to playing a loathsome “family game” called Quiplash. (Gertrude—promise me we will never play it.)
I abhorred it in part because televisions scare me, but mostly because of the things my Uncle Stalwell wrote. And to make matters worse, my whole family voted for his entries! Gertrude—they only voted for them because of the shock value. This forced me to realize how complicit my family is in my uncle’s racism.
“Lighten up,” Uncle Stalwell said. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just joking.”
“Oh bollocks!” I cried, spitting out my rooibos. “Racists remarks are inherently offensive. Like biscuits and tea, you can’t have one without the other!”
I then paced around the room—not even once drawing my sword from its scabbard!—and explained the important difference between impact and intent.
“You can still hurt someone even if it wasn’t your intention. Take the time I let another rider mount Apollo, my Orlov Trotter, and Apollo bucked them right off and broke their collarbone. That wasn’t my intent, but I still apologized for the impact. Your words are like a wild, racist horse, Stalwell. You need to be more cognizant that maybe only you feel comfortable with it. Don’t force others to ride your racist horse.”
My family really seemed to respond to this difference, Gertrude. I take pride knowing that a Tesla metaphor simply would not have worked as well as my horse one had.
My cousin Ainslie—always playing the devil’s advocate—brought up the argument that “old-fashioned” could mean “racist.” In a way, I conceded, she was correct.
“But let’s not call a ‘shovel’ a ‘spade,’ or ‘U.S. Detainment Camps of Refugee Children’ a ‘humane holding zone.’ Doing so reduces an issue to something benign, or mistakes one thing for another, like every time Uncle Stalwell calls the Spanish language ‘Mexican.’ And racism isn’t just something from the past; it’s, unfortunately, still incredibly modern.”
“So, be more specific (and accurate)!” I yawped.
“Call me ‘old-fashioned’!”
“Call Uncle Stalwell a ‘racist’!”
We shall see how the New Year’s party goes, Gertrude.
Here’s to hoping your holiday season is more serene. I miss you and your sophisticated family.
All my love always,
Reginald Porterfield Graves
Twenty-sixth day of December in the year of our Lord, this Two Thousandth and Nineteen