Easily the most obnoxious case of racism I ever faced was at Alpha Epsilon Pi (“the Jewish Fraternity”), which was located on the University of Rhode Island campus, where I was a border 1986-1988. I remember there were eleven of us named “David,” which led to the custom of calling each other, even the non-Davids, by our last names. One of these Davids, who would be the source of my discontent, was from New London, CT: David Keating, who obviously was double-majoring in Business and Weightlifting, complete with a minor in being an Asshole. Actually, it would more accurate to say he was a triple major.
Anyway, Keating was the kind of guy who would ask me, the only American Indian in the house, if I’m “proud to be civilized” or if I used “wooden plates and utensils” and washed my clothes “on a rock by the river.” Naturally, there were also rain dance and scalping “jokes” thrown into the mix, along with the occasional war whoop with a shout of “Indians!” as I was exiting the house to go to class. I should point out that Keating, along with several members of this small, not to mention small-minded, community, was often equally offensive to other People of Color, which somehow was less vile than their attitude toward women. As for the attitudes against minorities that I witnessed, I can vividly recall one of the frat brothers ranting, almost shouting his hatred for the Portuguese community. Then, there was the time I watched as the lone Japanese-American resident was humiliated for how his eyes looked whenever he laughed. At this point I should point out in the spirit of fairness–though certainly not forgiveness–that not all of the guys in this frat treated me this way. If nothing else, the AEPi guys were less despicable than the Neanderthals next door at the ZBT house.
As for why I was so special to Keating, other than my uniqueness as the only American Indian he ever met, I think two things bothered him the most. For starters, I never showed him any fear. I don’t intimidate easily to begin with, so if he wanted to see me tremble, he was out of luck. Also, I could dish back on the trash talk when needed. For another, I was by far more academically capable than he. In fact, I got the highest grades of anyone in that whole house. Plus, I think Keating saw me as befriending girls more easily than him. The only girls I ever saw him with were usually drunk as hell! In fact, whenever he spoke of females it was clear that they were more sex toy than equal to his dysfunctional mind.
In the end, I defeated Keating using my brain. This happened sometime during my senior year, after I’d been hired as an undergraduate teaching assistant by the Philosophy Department. One day after whispering the threat of “I’ll kick your ass”—without looking me in the eye, of course—as he passed by me one day, I told a friend about Keating’s behavior. Not the kind of friend who does your fighting for you, on the contrary, I didn’t need that kind of favor. Instead, I told my friend that if Keating threatens me again, I’ll have him suspended, and if he takes a swing at me, I’ll have him thrown out of school altogether! Of course, I honestly had no idea if my status as a TA meant anything to anyone, let alone when it came to pursuing disciplinary measures against another student.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to find out. By the time I saw Keating the next day his tone had completely changed. All of a sudden he was friendly, albeit in his boorish, lug headed way, and conspicuously far less belligerent. Obviously, word of my power as Philosophy TA made its way to him and he took it seriously. Ha! It was only after this that I realized that one major advantage I had over this dimwit was being able to effortlessly fool him into believing I had more clout than I actually did. In other words, I manipulated his foolishness to my benefit. Awesome. Martínez 1—Keating 0!