Sunday, March 19, 2006

My momma taught me better

Than to be a racist. Far too often, in hushed tones, people preface a racist comment by saying how they are not racist, but. The Rev. Dr. King hoped that we would some day be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. Indeed, I doubt that most of the hatred spewed by all sides in racists arguments stems truly from race, but from culture. The greatest friction between people depends on the level of resistance to the cultural practices of the Other.

This morning, the young LDS missionaries were answering questions posed to them by the bishop with "yep" and "nope," something that would have received a swift correction had it been done 20 years ago. My culture is that you respond "yes" and "no" at the very least, if not "yes sir" or "no sir" when someone in authority or honor addresses you. My neighbors continue to complain about our Hispanic neighbors' loud music on the weekends. White people complain about black people being loud in public. Black people complain about white people discriminating against them. The list is endless. It made me angry this morning to hear those two boys respond, what to me can only be called, flippantly to my bishop. They may not have known that they were being disrespectful, but if I assume that they are, then the problem lies with me and my prejudice (literally=pre-judgment) of them.

So when those same two boys called me an hour ago to tell me that they needed my help, this same conversation came back into my mind. On the way to pick them up at Lee Circle with a flat tire, I thought about how I could best tactfully tell them they needed to watch their behavior because they were in a different culture now and needed to be sensitive to that.

When I got there to pick them up, they were speaking with two men who were obviouly drunk. As we disassembled their bicycles, one of the men began stumbling towards my open car door, in an obvious attempt to enter it. I moved between him and my car and said "Dude, stay away from my car." Now as he was drunk, he took more offense at this than he should've and began to swear and call me a "Fat cracker motherfucker" and telling me "why don't you lose some weight" and other divers playground insults. The large Tongan missionary put himself between the man and I while I tried to load the bikes into the car. I was not too worried for my safety as I had a means to defend myself, but I do not seek out violence or confrontation. I merely wanted the man to leave me and my car alone. As he was black, him calling me "cracker" is meant as a racial epithet. I didn't tell him to stay away from my car because he was black, but because he was drunk and moving towards it in a not-normal way.

I endured his insults while I loaded the bikes into my car. I drove the elders home in silence, electing to not talk to them about something that seems now so trivial when faced with insults I just received.

It would be far too easy to call this man the flipside of the racial insults and their accompanying stereotypes, but my momma taught me better. Before I ever had religion, I had my momma. Mother is the name of god on the lips and in the hearts of every child. She taught me that race doesn't matter when it comes to someone's character. She taught me to avoid confrontation whenever possible. My mother's words echo not in my mind but in my instinctual behavior. I could've easily inflicted harm with extreme prejudice on that man tonight in self-defense. I could've have yelled back my own racial slurs at the man. But all of that behavior is not who I really truly am. I am not a violent person. I do not think ill of the man because of his race. My momma taught me better than that.

That man made choices that have since enslaved him to alcoholism to the point where he now walks the streets at night, drunk and aimless and confrontational. Nothing I could say or do to that man will change his behavior, especially while intoxicated. Like it or not, he is a son of my Heavenly Father, and as such, my brother. I do not take that relationship lightly.

I hope I did the right thing. Part of me wants to drive back down there and fight the man. Luckily, that's the part of myself I usually choose to ignore.


Tim said...

1) You did the right thing to walk away and let it bother you in private, rather than confronting the man about it. Kudos.

2) About the "yep" and "nope:" I understand that you have your manners, but they are not for you to teach to other mothers' children. That is my viewpoint. I personally see "yes sir" and "no sir" as puritanical and unnecessary -- children already know that they are subject to their parents. Forcing them to call you "sir" smacks of rubbing it in their face that you are their authority. Nevertheless, it is not my place to tell you that your choice to raise your children with "yes sir" and "no sir" is a bad one. It is your choice and yours alone. Other fathers have different ideas of what "manners" consist of, and they, if they are as loving of their children as you are of yours, will teach their children as they see best.

3) You've told me numerous times that "New Orleans isn't the South." To claim that southern "yes sir" culture belongs in New Orleans goes against what you've told me about New Orleans. My view: New Orleans doesn't feel like a "yes sir" type of city. Anywhere east of the twin spans, yes. But not the cosmopolitan city.

Mac said...

1) Yeah, I know, but damnit if I didn't want to kill something on the drive home.

2) You have a certain resistance to parental authority that comes from your relationship with your Dad. I understand that. I also understand that my conception of manners was the norm for centuries and has only suddenly been eroded in the last 75 years. While I do not submit that the young men should have to say "sir" I do think that "yep" and "nope" shows little respect or class in any situation. Fancy saying that to a judge and see what would happen. It does not "smack" of rubbing parental authority in my children's faces (you have your own issues there). Teaching children correct manners by force will mold them into having correct manners even when I'm not around. You have to realize that your bias is just as cultural as is mine. Georgia vs. California cultures.

3) Correct. New Orleans is not the South, however, it is a yes sir, no sir type city. It does not go against New Orleans culture to show respect for authority. Saying yep and nope would embarass any mother, no matter where she were from.

4)Please keep in mind that I chose NOT to bring it up with the elders. I realized how petty it is in the grand scheme of things. What just gets to me is how I feel my culture disappearing in the sea of multi-culturalism that priviliges all but my own (which arguably has been privileged for ages).