Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Golden Oldies

Sometimes when I talk with older people I'm just in awe.

I love hearing them talk about how their lives have changed over the years. I mean, some of these people have seen the invention of television, computers, cell phones and a host of other technological marvels. Shoot, I still trip on how much the world has changed since the 1980s, it would be mindboggling if I could remember as far back as the 1940s or 1950s.

When I first started working, I was so overwhelmed by the daily grind that I used to envy older people who were already at retirement age. It seemed like their lives were simpler and easier. Of course, I was way off base with those sentiments, but I point that out to note that I've always respected and envied older people for what they have seen and accomplished. Longevity in life is a gift.

However, I've never envied older people when it came to racial issues.

It has got to be confusing to have lived through this country's racial past and find yourself in today's "post-racial" society. Just the difference in acceptable terminology must be difficult for a lot of folks to grasp, let alone all the new rules about what is and is not acceptable behavior.

I read this story the other day about the Mayor in Oakland using the phrase "nigger shooter" instead of "slingshot" when advising some residents of her town on how to get rid of chickens running loose through their neighborhood.

A couple years back, this lady here in New Orleans lost a contract with the city because she used the phrase "nigger-rigged" to describe some lights that were in poor condition in a city office.

In both incidents the women who made the offensive comments were older white women, and both women played the "I have black friends I can't be racist" card.

Now, a regular reader of this blog might assume that I believe these women got what they deserved, and to a certain extent they did. After all, as the white mayor of a majority black city it would seem like a basic job qualification that you know that using the word nigger in any form is unacceptable. And the woman who was fired here in majority black New Orleans handled public relations for the city so she also should have been aware of the problems with the word nigger.

But, I felt kind of sorry for these women and people in their age bracket because when they were growing up terms like "nigger-rigged" and "nigger shooter" were perfectly acceptable parts of American culture. People called jawbreakers "nigger balls" and they called Brazilian nuts "nigger toes." Anything hard, shoddy or tough typically had the word nigger as part of its nickname.

That was just life.

I'm sure black folks didn't like it back then and I don't like it now. However, I feel like it sort of sucks that all these older people who were raised to think and speak one way are now being asked to change their habits on the fly. Even worse, when they slip up, they get fired or get censured. It seems a little unfair.

When I was a kid, whenever we considered something wack or lame we said it was "gay." We also called all Asians "gooks" and called every Latino a "mexican." These actions were offensive and as I got older I stopped doing them. But, it took a lot of effort on my part to break those habits, and I still slip up when it comes to the use of the word "gay."

My own failings make it hard for me to look too harshly on older people who retain bad habits from their youth, particularly if those habits are related to offensive phrases.

I believe that if people are willing to acknowledge that their comments are no longer acceptable in today's world, and then attempt to remove certain phrases from their vocabulary, then they should be cut some slack when they slip up. As long as they seem to be making an honest effort, I'm ok with that.

Sometimes old people can't help themselves.

Ask John McCain.


Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

and still we our own worse enemy

Deacon Blue said...

Yeah, my wife has had to gently and politely point out to some older folks around us (when we first moved out to this very white area we're in right now) that "colored" isn't really a cool term to use anymore.

But yeah, with older folks, it sometimes isn't about meanness but just old habits or the fact that they haven't been around enough black folks, Latinos, etc. to be made to realize that what they are doing is hurtful.

Big Man said...

I find it really interesting how many things in America used the word "nigger" as part of their name. It's amazing how prevalent that word was at one time.

Aometimes I wonder if the reason why so many white people fight so hard to be able to use it now is because they have fond memories from their childhoods that incorporate it.

I don't know, just a thought.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

This is interesting post, because I once asked a white co-worker what she used for the definition of nigger-rig, which was a word that was used in my family (and we’re black). She, being my age (some could read that as a younger American) said they used both Jerry-rigged and Bubba-rigged. I of course didn’t share with her that my family did indeed use nigger-rig. Like T said, our own worst enemies.

My rule of thumb is once you KNOW better you d better or at least make an effort to do better.


OG, The Original Glamazon said...


Man I totally forgot about colored, being a southerner I have been referred to as a colored girl/gal.

It’s really hard to correct someone in that age bracket as child (young teenager). It feels somewhat disrespectful even though you are correcting being disrespected by the older person.

It’s hard to find fault at my alma mater (college) they had colored and white signs over the water fountains in our old stadium until the 1984 economic summit. It was only then that someone thought to remove them because they might be offensive, the rational was it’s the old stadium (even though the majority black track team has always practiced at that stadium).



Big Man said...

Damn, what school was that?

And in my comment, I meant to say that I can understand why so many white protest the current on them using the word nigger because of the nostalgic value it has for them.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Sorry about the delete, Big Man, I had two windows open and posted the wrong comment on your blog.

Anyway, being not quite as old as the folks you're talking about, but old enough to remember well the Civil Rights Movement, in some ways is bad but in others it was much better.

For starters, whites were fairly comfortable with racism, so you knew where you stood with them. Nowadays they're very sneaky about this since it's no longer generally acceptable and can get them sued. This is very stressful for blacks in the workplace because we don't who is our enemy and who isn't. By the time we figure it out, we often are left stressed out from being back-stabbed.

Back then, blacks were not welcome at many restaurants and department stores. Trying on clothes in a white place? Forget about it. Eating at the counter? Nuh-uh. We had more of our businesses as a result, and many folks, including my father, cleaned up big time from this.

A lot of blacks now go to huge universities and are a tiny minority. They don't if their assigned roommate, a professor, or other students are racist or not, and there's a smaller pool of available dating partners if they only want to date other blacks. Back then, blacks couldn't get into most of state universities and went to black colleges. There was more cohesiveness and a feeling that they belonged, and had a wider variety of friends to chose from.

Some of words we used wasn't a big deal. Colored was a nice word because it described us as having color. A lot of folks were resistant to being called Negroes. I remember when being called black or African were fighting words, guaranteed to get you an ass-whipping. Sounds very strange now.

The whole Black Power movement and the two decades afterwards allowed most of us to become comfortable with it. It was the underclass every time that brought us out of our collective fears of being afraid of words used to control us. The hiphop generation made the word nigga okay among many of us - but not all - and like African-American, black, and Negro, we're still fighting over this, and again, it's mostly the educated and middle class older folks who are resisting the change.

Other words you've used are still offensive. I had one white teacher in high school who loved to use the words niggerish. When we complained, she made us look it up in the dictionary as though this were the Bible of correctness.

This ain't no post-racial society either, not by a long shot. The crap I've seen from this election has been an eye-opener, and also brought out the racists out of their closets and even fanned the flames of it, thanks to Hillary's Southern redneck campaign strategy. Ludacris was dead right about that b*tch.

Well, those are just some thoughts.

Gye Greene said...

B. Man,

That's a very balanced attitude you're showing -- probably more balanced that I'd have.

Yeah, my grandparents apparently used to call Braz. nuts "nigger toes" -- it took about ten years of their college-attending children to convince them that that wasn't cool anymore.

Good point about dorky stuff being "gay". I'd like to add, too, about things being "retarded".

Re: Colored -- that's all tricky. There's a great Bloom Country from many years back about someone's mom being confused about what the correct terminology to use -- negro, colored, black/Black, African-American... The awkward bit is that some organizations STILL use "Colored" (e.g. NAACP) -- so it can't be **that** bad, can it?

Deacon Blue: re. "colored" -- I like to turn it on its head. Rather than making Caucasians the reference point, and everyone ELSE being "People of Color" -- I tend to call Caucasians "Pigmentally Challenged" or "Pigmentally Impaired". :)

(All of us with adequate melatonin are just "normal", thanks...) :)

("Normally pigmented"?)


SagaciousHillbilly said...

That's very nice of you to be so understanding, but as a white man who was raised in the 50s, I know what words I can and can't use. I don't want to use words that offend. . . never have. My g'mother taught me that a Brazil Nut was a Brazil nut and not what my grandfather called them. My mother taught me that the n word was unacceptable even if my father used it.
I learned when I got into the work world how to act and the realities of interacting with black people. There's no fucking excuse for some white person who isn't 80 yrs old and senile using the n word in public under any conditions.
If those women really had "black friends" and "weren't racist," they'd have NEVER used such language.
They got exactly what they deserved.

Raving Black Lunatic