1) Queen's undergraduates in blackface
2) Queen's undergraduates setting things on fire, or
3) a man in a wheelchair being left outside his house on his own by his swearing wife, heaving himself out of his wheelchair, pulling himself toward his front door, and then screaming "Fuck off, you fucking faggot" in response to a pedestrian's offer of help.
So it was with relief and gratitude that one day I saw a beaming white-haired couple straight out of a plan-your-own-will commercial walking hand in hand toward me. They were clearly loving, caring people who proved that relationships endure, that old age can be wonderful, and that not everyone in Kingston wanted to comment unfavourably on how I had a lesbian haircut.
And just as I moved aside to let the adorable elderly people shuffle by lovingly, a car drove past us playing some hip hop, and the old man turned to his companion and said something stupendously racist.
I was reminded of this while riding the subway the other night. A kind-faced white octogenarian wearing a sweater vest struck up a conversation with a young black man who had up to that point been generously allowing us all to listen to very loud hip hop through his earphones. The older gentleman was absolutely not saying anything racist, so I allowed myself to relax into a sense of how wonderful, reaffirming, humane moments really can happen and the world is not all about bigots and worrying about the flu.
The young man had been to a Raptors game, and the old man wanted to talk about that, and I looked indulgently on, and then the old man got a little more insistent about something, and then he hissed, "What I'm saying is that they need a power forward. That's why I'm saying." And the young guy was reserved and polite, and the old man got more worked up, and it was extremely tense, and then it was my stop.
There should be a word for situations that promise initially to be inspiring and life-affirming and then turn out to be unpleasant; there should also, I suppose, be a word for situations that promise initially to be inspiring and life-affirming and then turn out to be unpleasant--but at least don't turn out to be surprisingly racist.