I know it isn't only older folks who do this, but it sure does seem to be common among those of my relation and acquaintance: Why do senior citizens seem to think it is okay to comment on the racial make-up of the crowd at a meeting or restaurant or other gathering, particularly when the predominant race or ethnic group represented in the group is different from that of the commenter? And why won't they take silence as a proper response?
Here's what I typically do:
If the commenter is a friend or relative of mine, I will let that person know that I am not interested in hearing such "observations" and I will tell them nicely - but specifically - why I find such remarks troublesome or offensive. If, however, the commenter is either a random person nearby (and you'd be surprised how often this seems to happen) or someone of only tangential acquaintance, I will look at the commenter for a long moment, partly to make sure I have correctly understood the intent of the remark and partly to make it clear to the person that I heard what was said, and then I will turn my eyes and attention elsewhere. I will simply be silent; I avoid even an "mm hmm" or "uh-huh" for fear that either could be perceived as tacit agreement or complicity in the views of the commenter. I do not actively change the subject. I'd rather there be silence in an effort to indicate that I am pointedly not responding versus simply glossing over a potentially awkward moment by moving the conversation (and, thus, the person's attention) elsewhere.
First off, does this sort of thing happen to you, too?
Do you notice certain categories of people (by age, urban/suburban, socio-economic background, religious background, college-educated vs. not, geographic history, etc.) doing this more often than others?
If it does happen to you, what do you do?