This will be fairly brief. I found myself once again disappointed in a fellow critter. I don’t know his name so I can’t “out” him, nor would I even if I did. Up until last week, I rather enjoyed encountering him when I walked Coffey—he was always smiling and always had a treat for her. But I am now taking routes at times designed to avoid him.
I thought I’d heard all the racial epithets going around, but he had a new one and as we walked about two blocks together he used it and complained about the people to whom he referred in a general “Them” rant that turned me off.
I grew up in South St. Louis at a time when the city was struggling to come to terms with its racial mix. We had some violence here in the late Sixties and I remember after Dr. King’s assassination that several of our neighbors “stood guard” by sitting on their porches with rifles, shotguns, and pistols, “just in case.” Just in case never happened, so no one got shot, but the black-white tension was palpable and even today you can feel it despite the fact that St. Louis is becoming a fairly integrated city. It has been a long time since I’ve heard certain terms out of doors, in mixed groups and I certainly never expected (perhaps naively) to hear a brand new one.
Somehow I never really internalized the bigotry, but I have to confess that at times I felt it, more from those around me than anything from within (although I experienced the first waves of public school integration in the early Sixties and had an event that could very easily have set a pattern of discrimination). My grandmother was a self-righteous racist who talked about a slave-owning branch of the family with a weird kind of nostalgia, but I grew up and got over it and by the time I left high school I simply didn’t think that way anymore.
It helps being an outsider from the major groups and cliques.
So when I encounter it now, I am usually startled. I have to shift mental gears to accommodate what I’m hearing and it’s always disagreeable at best, often repulsive.
Here’s how I think—people can be assholes. Leave it at that. Your ethnic origins have nothing to do with it. White assholes, black assholes, brown, yellow, what have you, assholes are assholes. It is both pointless and ignorant to identify an entire group on the basis of one or two assholes, especially when the salient feature of disregard is a behavioral trait shared by all—an asshole is an asshole. I treat people as individuals. Granted, in certain conversations, general statements of certain groups about common group characteristics can be valid, but none of that is genetic and to conflate race into the mix for the purposes of discrimination or the venting of animosity is childish, crude, and flat wrong.
The thing is—and perhaps this is a generalization, but I’m speaking now of the long list of personal encounters I’ve had with people who indulge this kind of thing—people who feel compelled to belittle others through the use of epithets are often themselves failures in one way or another and all they’re doing is trying to make themselves have value by comparison with those they regard as their natural inferiors.
There are no “natural” inferiors.
I just wanted to say something about this. I find it sad that we still—still—haven’t gotten over this, and maybe we never will completely, but damn.