Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Say What?

Sitting at my parents crib over the holidays. Talking to my pops about how his job is going since he's had some difficulty in that area recently.

He's telling me that things aren't great, but he believes he'll manage with God's help. Then he tells me about a deal one of his associates is working, and says something that makes me pause. He uses the phrase "Jew me down..."""

Yeah, he said that.

My pops and I argue a lot over some of the stuff he says. I argue with my mom too, but to a lesser degree because she's less likely to engage in back and forth with me. She just sits quietly until I run out of steam.

But, my dad likes to say outrageous stuff, and he doesn't much care what other folks feel about his comments. Matter of fact, he'll defend his outrageous comment as perfectly acceptable against all odds. I've had to check him for using the word "faggot" among other things, but no matter how many times I explain to him why certain language isn't acceptable, he refuses to listen. He's an obdurate old man.

It's shocking how many people don't think about the meanings behind the words they use. From "nigger-rigged" to "chinky-eyed" folks use phrases that have racist overtones and don't blink an eye. They assume that because they're not a racist, saying racist things is no big deal. Although, you have to wonder. If saying racist stuff doesn't make you a racist, exactly what is the threshold?

I tried to explain to my pops why his comment was problematic, but he didn't want to hear me. He trotted out all the standard responses: "That's not what I mean... I'm not going to be P.C.... You think you can tell people what to do but you can't." It was quite similar to arguing with your standard conservative white person about race. Which sucked, by the way.

What I tried to explain to him, and what I still can't understand, is why hold on to things that are clearly hurtful and steeped in racism? This is particularly true if you're somebody like my father, a Christian. Why would you want to hurt folks, why would you want to use terms that clearly play on stereotypes about them? Even if these things are true, does that mean you have to say them? Honesty is wonderful, but so is kindness.

It seems that folks just don't want to give up what's comfortable. No surprise there, but it's still depressing. Because what's comfortable to most folks, is often detrimental to a whole bunch of other folks.

Seems pain and pleasure are linked in far more ways than I realized.



Tit for Tat said...

So is Pops a racist or bigot?

T.A.N. Man said...

@Big Man - we're all guilty of it in some area or another. Sometimes we just want to do what we want to do no matter who it offends or what other folks--including God, if you roll that way--think about it.

@ Tit for Tat - More of a bigot than a racist. He generally likes all people, but uses terminology that doesn't always reflect those feelings. Now moms, definitely racist.

Big Man said...


Why you telling all the family secrets?

I was thinking as I was driving in this morning, what's the value of saying hurtful things? Does it feel better? Or is it just more comfortable, and changing it would require to much effort? I see people complaining about having to watch what they say, and I wonder if it's just a desire for the world to remain the way it's always been, or something else.

Darth Whitey said...

Well as a white man me'self I'm not allowed to say any of those things, nor have I ever been inclined to do so. I find it odd that black folks would do so though, I mean, of all people y'all know how hurtful epithets of the sort are.

Deacon Blue said...

Where is becomes tricky is when something is so ingrained in the language and people don't even KNOW it's racial.

Gypped, for example. I sincerely doubt that more than a tiny fraction of people know that is derived from Gypsy. And frankly, how many people claim Gypsy descent and would even complain? So it continues to roll along unchecked. And maybe it doesn't even need to be checked, I don't know.

Indian giver is another one, which I suspect most people don't think twice about. It's not meant to be all that mean or even reflect on Native Americans, and yet there it is.

Nigger-rigged, for example, just doesn't get used in common parlance nationwide, unlike the two above, so it's more regional and more offensive since it's isolated and easy to identify.

Same with "jew down" or "jewing" someone.

On the other hand, sometimes things end up changing from racial to non-racial over time, like the Eeeny Meeny Minie Mo line, "catch a tiger by the toe" which, if I understand correctly, used to be "catch a nigger by the toe."

Language and attitudes are strange that way. We should be more aware, but comfort and habit often win out.

Big Man said...

Good point Deac.


Black people are just people. White people's particularly position in the world doesn't give them any special insight, and often neither does black people's. Most people don't think too much about what they're doing and why they are doing it.

Raving Black Lunatic