Yesterday I had one of those weird conversations white Southerners sometimes find themselves drawn into. I was talking to one of our older white neighbors, who is maybe in his 70's. He was doing me a favor by telling me about an affordable tree-trimming service, which we badly need to get rid of the tree that has taken our electricity and/or cable out 3 times in the past few years. He took the opportunity to ask me if I knew whether the people who bought the house across the street from us were white or not.(*Sigh*, I thought. Here we go again.) I said I had seen them and they do appear to be white. Well, without ever uttering the "n" word or saying anything overtly nasty, he went on to express his satisfaction because in his opinion our neighborhood is still 90% white, and he made it clear that that's the way he wants it to stay.

Well, I guess maybe the old guy doesn't get out that much, because from what I've seen, our neighborhood is much more diverse than that. But I guess it's possible that he's grouping the Arabic families, the Asian folks and the Latinos into the "white" category, and maybe that's how he comes up with this 90% number. He maybe even thinks he's being broad-minded, to consider those folks white. Still, you have to wonder why 90% is the magic ratio and where he gets that idea from.

I always feel really uncomfortable when I talk to older people who talk like this. It's possible that they don't even know that what they are saying is racist. I kind of know instinctively that if I were to tell them that I'm offended by their attitude, they will ostracize me. Instead, I told him, "We have a lot of good black neighbors!" He agreed with that, but reiterated that we still don't want TOO MANY. (I don't see how you can have too many good neighbors, no matter what their race is.)

He then went on to recommend a good affordable "Christian" mechanic shop. He really made it a point to emphasize that they are Christians, because he said it more than once. I don't know about you, but I don't care anything about what religion my mechanic practices, as long as he (or she) knows how to fix my car. Once again, it was one of those subtle cultural things that really irks me. Is "Christian" code for "upstanding," "moral," or "fair?" Is a Christian mechanic less likely to overcharge you for repairs? I guess one would hope so. But on the other hand, probably the majority of U.S. mechanics belong to some Christian denomination or the other, yet customers are still being overcharged and ripped off on a regular basis.

The whole conversation left me feeling like we were from two different worlds. I don't want to make my neighbor seem like a bad person, because I'm sure he's not. Nor do I think I'm morally superior in some way. But I think it does point out a generational difference. I wonder if he was as aware of it as I was...

Views: 119

Comment by Rich Lane on August 18, 2009 at 3:18pm
Speaking of Southern Prejudices, I loved Hoyt's monologue about his mother's wide and varied hatreds on True Blood this week.
Comment by Figserello on August 18, 2009 at 10:07pm
So the best we can say about this guy is

a) he's probably never lit a cross on someone's front lawn

b) he's going to die soon.

I'm not sure we can use the word 'good' without divesting that word of most of its meaning...

Yes, if he was my father, I'd be fond of his cranky little quirks, but he's not, so why make excuses for him?
Comment by Mike Parnell on August 18, 2009 at 10:26pm
Both Melody;s and my grandmother used the "N" word regularly. Both of them were fine people, but both were taught that was supposed to be what you called people of color. I was taught that. But I let go of that part of my rearing decades ago.
Comment by Joan Carr on August 19, 2009 at 10:26am
Rich, I watched that episode last night and actually thought of this discussion! That was a very funny scene. Especially when Jessica mentioned red shoes...you could see that really ticked off Hoyt's mother!
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on August 19, 2009 at 7:44pm
My experience is similar to Pa's. My grandfather on my mom's side used the "N" word all of the time. I never heard my mom use it, and she would get so mad at my grandpa when he used it around us. It was always just so tense.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on August 20, 2009 at 7:35am
And the awful truth is that people who grew up using the word nigger* didn't know it was wrong, any more than people who grew up calling mentally handicapped people retards, or calling gay people queer (or whichever isn't offensive these days.)

It was simply what they were called. Flight attendants were stewardesses or stewards. Waste management personnel were janitors. (Fill in your own Fogey phrase here and its current translation.)

These words COULD be used in a derogatory way, but a lot of times they weren't; it was simply the word that was used. When people with a southern accent pronounced the word negro, it came out as nigrah. When people not used to those accents heard the word, they heard "nigger."

Sure, it's got bad connotations these days - but you can insult someone by calling them "Jew", "Woman", "Old Man", "Immigrant", and other perfectly harmless noun/adjective combinations. It's the intent that causes the harm, backed up by ongoing connotation.

I won't let anyone off the hook for being a bigot or intolerant - but if someone doesn't know any better, I find it hard to condemn them for living their life the way they have for fifty, sixty years.

I remain,
Sincerely,
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey
x<]:o){

*I mean no insult to anyone reading this, or to anyone who accepts this word as a descriptor of themselves. But I don't want to give a word power by not using it and "elevating" it. Sort of that "Voldemort" thing...
Comment by Figserello on August 20, 2009 at 6:06pm
I'm all for questioning societies received wisdoms. It’s a healthy exercise.

I mean no insult to anyone reading this, but Eric's last post was extremely offensive to me.

We all knew what word we were talking about, thank you very much. We don't use the word because most people find it offensive. That's good enough for me.

I'm offended that you equate the word with more harmless words like Janitor and Air Stewardess. No one was ever violently assaulted or killed with the latter words being spat at them.

I'm insulted that you place your indignation as a white guy having your language restricted over anyone else's feelings.

Sure, it's got bad connotations these days and with good reason. You also posit that it is the same kind of word as "Jew", "Woman", "Old Man", "Immigrant". These are all neutral words unless used, as you say with intent to offend.

The word you were itching to throw into this conversation isn't a neutral word. It has a history. Maybe a lot of time it was used just as a neutral descriptor, but the context wasn't neutral. You don't address the power imbalance that the word was used to convey, or its accumulatively dehumanising purpose.

I don't want to be putting words in your mouth, so perhaps you can clear up a few things that people might infer from your post.

Do you think society’s abhorrence of the word is 'political correctness gone mad'? Is it part of some lefty plot to make white males like you less happy about themselves?

You talk about the historical context of the word (without mentioning the cruelty and injustice that went along with it), but do you feel that you are now living in a society where inequality doesn't exist anymore?

But you’ve already answered that: (It happened, yes, but it didn't happen last week. Remember it, absolutely . "Never again!", unquestionably. But the victims don't get to still revel in it and demand recompense, the offenders don't get to revisit those crimes. Let's move on, shall we?)

So the white guy gets to say when it is all behind us? I see...

What do you mean by the following by the way: The offenders don’t get to revisit those crimes...?

I mean no insult to anyone reading this, or to anyone who accepts this word as a descriptor of themselves.
What a bizarre sentence. No-one accepts this word as a simple descriptor of themselves. If anyone uses it at all it’s as an ironic commentary on how society – still - sees them.

..and I don’t think we have too many gangsta rappers frequenting the Captain’s board.

Sorry for getting heavy here, especially on Joan’s blog (Hi Joan!), but this is a place that I enjoy coming to. I’d hate to think that this was the kind of place where offensive posts like the above go unchallenged, just so the white male with questionable views isn’t offended. I’d feel silence at this point would be interpreted as agreement and affirmation, much like the subject of the original post does.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on August 21, 2009 at 8:10am
Wow. I apologize sincerely. As stated, I did not mean to offend, and I certainly didn't mean to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I was, I thought, making a point about the "n" word, in an environment that wouldn't take offense - but I was obviously mistaken, and again - I really didn't mean to insult you or anyone else, Figserello.

Do you think society’s abhorrence of the word is 'political correctness gone mad'?

Nope. But I do think - hope, really - that such words, at some point, would be nothing more than historically antiquated terms that were once used but no longer are. I think that getting past being insulted by such terms, and ceasing to cede them power today in the 21st century, would help us do that.

Is it part of some lefty plot to make white males like you less happy about themselves?

Interesting question, but I'm not sure I quite get the gist. So I will bluntly say that I am completely against slavery and everything that happened with it, and associated with it. I am completely against using words to hurt people, minimalize them, or destroy them in any way. (Trust me when I tell you that I'm familiar with that!) To make me less happy about myself... well, I try to treat everyone equally with regards to race, religion, gender, etc. and despise them individually for their own characteristics and merits - but I don't feel uncomfortable because I try really hard not to do anything that in any way supports such indignities - and I can't do anything about what happened before I was born.

You talk about the historical context of the word (without mentioning the cruelty and injustice that went along with it), but do you feel that you are now living in a society where inequality doesn't exist anymore?

I think inequality exists less now than it did ten years ago, and less than ten years before that, and so on. I think that humanity is very slowly staggering towards equality. I think that re-emphasizing things that reinforce splits between people isn't a good thing; such things would be better removed of all negative connotations and treated as history, not current events.

So the white guy gets to say when it is all behind us? I see...

Um... okay, first of all, jumping posts isn't fair. You quoted from my first post - and it mentioned NO SPECIFIC MINORITY of any type at all. So your use of "the white guy" is kind of insulting. (I can see where you presume that I'm a white guy... that picture is pretty telling, huh? :) )

But you misunderstand me. I'm not saying that it's all behind us - I'm HOPING that it's all behind us. In this country, if one is not a male WASP, one has been insulted, exploited, threatened, harassed, and worse. It happened to the blacks. It happened to the jews. It happened to women. It happened to the Poles. It happened to the hispanic, to the old, to the gypsies, to the handicapped, to so many.

"Let's move on" means that we should acknowledge it was part of history; understand the abominations that have occurred; do our best to comprehend why they happened; work hard to prevent their reoccurrence; and, WHILE DOING THAT, move on to a future where they are no longer considerations in interpersonal relations; where we can achieve an equality between such differences in people. (Although I tell you, there's something about those redheads that makes me feel funny in the tummy... :) )

And I hope that explains what "the offenders don't get to revisit those crimes" means too.

No-one accepts this word as a simple descriptor of themselves. If anyone uses it at all it’s as an ironic commentary on how society – still - sees them.

Then I'll have to beg your pardon for my observations, and for possibly being unintentionally insulting again. I have seen and heard any number of black people refer to each other with the "n" word, and - the possibly insulting part - their discussion didn't seem to be a discussion of societal concerns. It seemed more like causal conversation to me.

Figserello, I hope that I've explained my comments to you to your understanding, if not to your acceptance. I really was trying to engage in a discussion of ideas, not justification for - if I may be excused for it - "white supremacy." Believe me, when I was the administrator of the Captain Comics Message Board, I bent over backwards to ensure fairness and even temper among all the participants - and I'll bet I can get a couple of supporters on that.

Thank you for your comments and discussion. I'm not sure I appreciate the tone, but I surely am glad to have the chance to discuss it with you.

I remain,
Sincerely,
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey
x<]:o){

P.S. Ms. Carr, I hope very much I haven't insulted YOU either. I didn't mean to make a comment that would blow things up; I was hoping to continue a fascinating discussion!
Comment by Joan Carr on August 21, 2009 at 11:42am
Wow! I had no idea this would stir up a hornet's nest! Controversy seems to follow me whereever I go. But I told you I could bring the crazy!

I think we all need to remember that words have power and can hurt people. Think before you speak (or in this case, write). I like this Navaho prayer:

Today I will walk out, today everything evil will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,
lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,
living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.

If we all thought this prayer before speaking, we truly would "walk in beauty."
Comment by The Baron on August 21, 2009 at 11:50am
What is this "thinking before speaking" you post of? ;)

Comment

You need to be a member of Captain Comics to add comments!

Join Captain Comics

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2021   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service