Thursday, August 5, 2010

Only Mildly Offensive to Everyone

I grew up in a vanilla place.

Not the organic, hormone-free, Tahitian gelati made from The Pope's cows in Switzerland vanilla purchased at Whole Foods but generic vanilla from a paper carton purchased at the I.G.A.

The town wasn't exactly lily white.  We had our rednecks who are white, but hardly lilies.  And there was the little strip of houses on the edge of town leading out toward Salem Ridge where all the black people lived.

My face still burns with shame when I think about how I would lie flat in the truck bed with my cousins and our gang of rowdy friends as my aunt drove through that cluster of houses on her way in and out of town.  From the safety of their assumed anonymity, they would shout nigger and I would laugh because I thought they were being funny and daring and subversive.

I was too stupid and too young to know that hate isn't subversive.  It's frighteningly mainstream.

I didn't use that word much.  I did once when I was quite young and my mother heard me, wigged out and blamed the person she rightfully assumed I'd learned the word from.

"Paul, fix this," she hissed.  "I don't ever want to hear her say that again."

My dad is a real pedantic sort.  "If you ever say that word - if you even think it -, the nearest black person is going to come and cut your ears off."

Terror is an effective teaching tool.  I rarely used that word or even thought it.  For years after, I could sleep only if one ear was pressed firmly into my pillow and the other was covered with a blanket.  I wasn't taking any chances in my sleep.

So the other day, when I wrote about the mixture of classes and ethnicity at Nate's school, I failed to mention that my vanilla face might have stood out a little.  While we still have Sophie firmly planted among the clod hoppers and people not unlike herself (except for that whole having a Jewish dad, a non-believing mom and having been born North of the Mason Dixon and if you think that doesn't matter, you're wrong), Nate is now attending a school where mocha, cinnamon and free-trade organic dark make up the dominant culture. 

Nate's sense of relief in his new setting is almost palpable. He did fine at his old school, making plenty of friends and such, but he never felt quite at home.  Many of the kids with whom he attended school were quick to remind him of his outsider status.  Even trading "going to" for "fixin' to" didn't earn him full status.  Language always plays a part, doesn't it?  He'd forget his y'alls and drop in a you guys - the linguistic equivalent of dissing the Confederate flag or referring to "it" as The Civil War.

So now he's settling into his new role of still being somewhat of an outsider, but for whatever reason - the influence of TV, maybe? - he seems more at home in his new place.  He's careful not to go too far, of course, because he doesn't want to be tagged with the dreaded wigger label.  Those guys are laughed at by both the black and the white kids.

It's clear, though, that this atmosphere with a varied complexion is more to his liking.  Let's just say he's always been more inclined to listen to hip hop or rap than to country or even skinny, sensitive white guy music.

This summer as he played baseball for his new school, he made new friends and, as often happens, he's learned and shared some new words and phrases with us.  Being a word person myself, I can't help but play around a little with these shiny, new toys.  And kids, especially teenagers, love it when adults adopt their style.  They think it's really cool.

As I've tested out some of these new phrases, I've found the results to be mixed.  I guess there are still a lot of really stuffy people in this world.  I thought reality TV and having an African-American president had changed all that, but I was wrong.

Nurse during my physical:  So when did you have your last period?
Me:  You don't know me like that. Beeyotch.  Shiiiiiiit.

Grocery Store Clerk:  Is that credit or debit?
Me:  That's what she said.

Nathan to me:  I can't believe I'm up at 5:30 a.m. to go to school.
Me:  Your mom's up at 5:30 a.m.
Nate:  Mom.  No. See....
Me:  What?  You don't know me like that.
Nate:  Dad!  Make her stop!
Me:  Your mom's gonna make her stop. Yo.
MathMan:  My mom's dead.
Me:  Oh.  Right.  Sorry, honey.

Sophie:  mkalphalknsfphghsldkfh
Me:  Bitch, take the shit out of yo' mowf and eeeee-nun-see-yate
Sophie:  We just found another stray kitten.  Can we....?
Me:  Go back to being an unintelligible hillbilly.  And NO!

Chloe:  I'm getting anxious to go back to school.
Me:  Your mom's getting anxious for you to go back to school.
Chloe blinks, shakes her head, walks away.

MathMan, nodding at my empty wine glass:  How many have you had?
Me:  Shut up, bitch. You don't know me like that.
MathMan, who has taught at the above-mentioned school for seven years and has yet to make an ass of himself by trying to sound like a teenager, ignores me and points at the glass:  How many have you had?
Me:  That's what she said?



  1. Remember, after several years of high school, the word "fuck" is used as a noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, conjunctive adverb, adjective, dependent clause and preposition (not proposition). So, in any given sentence, "fuck" can be used at least 6 or more times.

    Start toughing up, 'cause it is what it is.

  2. I'm glad your little mofro is buggin' over his new school. Word homeslice.

  3. It's good that your son likes his new school and that he desires diversity.

    I said the "N" word once and I immediately and absolutely regretted it. I grew up hearing that word being said, especially by my step-dad, and I argued about it with anyone who would listen about how wrong it was, especially him. Goddess love him, Dad was a union man and a democrat but he was racist and some of that had to rub off on me. I have worked hard to recognize and eliminate the racism but I think some of it is unconscious whether we like to believe it or not.

  4. Excuse me, it's proper name is The War of Northern Aggression.

    Liberality, my family's full of more than a few dums like that. Morons.

    What always gets me is that when waiting for the bus, usually on Saturdays when families are out and about more, sometimes there will be a young black family and the dad (invariably the dad) will, in response to his kid running around and being goofy as kids are wont to do, go "that's my little nigger, aw yeah nigger, check out my nigger."

    Seriously? You fucking sound stupid. Although I guess in fifty years when whitey is the minority, we'll be hearing "that's my little cracker, aw yeah cracker, check out my cracker."

    Words are fucked, except fuck, the finest, most versatile word in the English language. Go fuck go!

  5. Glad you switched to chocolate icecream...

    Amy, formerly known as Scandalous Housewife (please visit at

  6. Good luck to Nate!
    I am looking forward to high school for Grace, perhaps it will be a break from the relentless mediocrity of middle school.

  7. I'm laughing at your reader Will's comment and forgot what I was going to say....

    but, here in Hawaii, being white is a definite minority.

  8. I've also heard "it" referred to as "The Recent Unpleasantness"

    Wait until you try to text him using abbreviations and slang. See if you don't get schooled in proper spelling, punctuation and the use of a complete sentence.

  9. Fo Shizzle!

    My kids go nuts when I say that, so I try to work it into conversations with them whenever I can.

    My parents would have kicked my a$$ if they heard me use the N word. It was completely off limits.

  10. Both the comments and this post have me laughing so hard.

    I hate hate HATE the N-word. I have never said it except to admonish someone else for saying it. But I need to admit something: Sometimes, when I'm standing in church, it pops in my head. Seriously. I'll be all singing along "...joyful joyful we adore thee, God of..." and in my head pops the N-word. I am so fucking lucky it's never popped out. I don't even want to know what the shrinks of the world would think about that, but I am not a racist. Except maybe towards mean fat white conservative men.

  11. "Let's just say he's always been more inclined to listen to hip hop or rap than to country or even skinny, sensitive white guy music."

    Like Morrissey? ;-)

    I'd say more but I have too much to say, since the issues you touch on with such humor are very real with not so funny consequences.

    At my kids' high school, in the most rural part of our already hick county, there was like...two black kids and two mixed-race kids and they all seemed to fit in just fine. But gay kids??? There is so much homophobia among the rednecks here, that it's hearbreaking.

    Thanks for a great post! Good luck to Nate.

  12. Ok - now you are irritating me. Because you sound like my kids when they are trying to irritate me. Obviously with success.

    I have adopted one or two of the expressions - like coolio and occasionally, word. Which drives my children mad.

  13. OMG, this cracks me up, the language I hear from teens, thankfully not mine most of the time is just unreal.
    One that just infuriates my husband, my bad, he's like, apologize and move on....ugh.
    the N word was always off limits, and then I was the girl who dated on the dark side, and it's all a lie about once you go black you'll never go back, but dang girl, there is a difference...ahem!

  14. "skinny, sensitive white guy music"

    My African-American college roommate once told me that she was relieved that I, her assigned roommate, was White because she didn't want any "nigger jive" interfering with her studying. I was astounded.

  15. The Recent Unpleasantness... I'd forgotten, a friend of my grandmother's used to call it that.

    My parents didn't use the N word. And my dad was the one who organized the men in our neighborhood to go repaint over the garage door N-word graffiti that some idiot left when the first black family bought a house in our neighborhood. Still, it took multiple years of living in foreign countries for me to realize just how racist I was. It is insidious programming. :( Glad your son's generation is taking the next steps forward out of this mess...

  16. Good for Nate. Hope he loves the next four years. And think of all the new words you are going to learn from him. It's a win win.

  17. Well now you're rainbow sherbet, obvs.

    My daughter (14) and her friends all say "your mom" too...they had to shorten 'your mama' apparently.

    I have never, and will never say the 'n' word. People are people, skin color is just skin color. There are assholes of every class, race, religion, etc, and generous, kind people of all shapes, color, levels of education.

    I hope Nate has an awesome school year, yo.

    Also, THANK YOU, love, for pimping me on your sidebar. :) You da bomb.


  18. So yo 'sup wit chu?

    I heard a great line the other day---

    In high school if you are slightly different than anyone else people give you a hard time & it sucks.
    But once out of high school everyone WANTS to be different, & unique. You just gotta get through it.

    As for the "N" word, we did not use it- occasionally I heard some relative adult jerk in the family use the word (in a joke). My parents were a kick in the pants though. They gave us the "we're all equal" lecture.... but then told us to "lock the car doors" if we were going through a rougher neighborhood. Then again in Chicago, there really are some neighborhoods that it IS wise to lock your car doors. Probably even more than back when I was a kid! Not even talking color specific, just the weirdo factor.
    They delivered equality with a touch of paranoid/street smarts??

  19. So how many had you had? ;-)

    Every generation creates its own language barrier.

  20. Beyotch - you got owned.

    Tell the little bitchsquealor to leave his momma off the hook, yo.



  21. It is fun to drive our children nuts by reflecting the absurdity which is them.

  22. This is a hilarious post, Lisa. I'm so glad I made my way over. Your dad gave you awesome advice. Ears being cut off scares the daylights out of any kid.

  23. On second thought, get him into mime school. Your future peace of mind is at stake. Peace out.

  24. I'm sorry I'm just now getting to this. This was a great post! I would really tell you how I feel about the post but I don't know you like dat!

  25. Being White and partnered with a Black Woman I am doubly blessed (or cursed)! We're in "liberal Seattle" (hah!)

    2+ years ago - younger step-son - first hears The N Word - from a Pakistani-American classmate mimicking his father's obvious Racism - ironic huh.

    Then a week ago B and I have just left a play. We've made it across the main street at the light and are crossing a side street where the drivers have a stop-sign.

    White man (using the term liberally) evidently doesn't like the audacity of B forcing him to wait for her to cross the street.

    After he's safely made the turn he yells back "Extra points for..."

    When you are Black, it's not so easy to just Blow Off the OBVIOUS racist b.s. - idiots like this show.

    At the same time - there is humor and craziness - as B can knock the attire, attitude or whatever of the Bro or Sistah we pass by in our car.

    It's funny - when it's funny and just Sick when it's not! Thanks!

  26. Liv has attended a Montessori school all of her life. She will be in sixth grade this year and her school only goes up to her last year.

    Her school is very diverse with 30% white, 30% black, 30% asian and 10% hispanic. And it is SMALL. Under 100 children in the entire school.

    I have no idea where to put her in 7th grade...

    Well, that's what she said.

  27. My main knowledge of North American slang is still based on terms like 'you hoser' and 'center shot'. I may need a course in Ebonics before coming over to your place for dinner.

  28. having gone to an elementary school (in the 60s) that was 99.9% white and 90% Jewish, then to a high school that was 99.8% white and only 75% jewish and then to a college that was 90% white and maybe 50% jewish (or so it seemed) you would wonder how i could actually be so tolerant.

    my grandfather (who lived in a very mixed neighborhood in Brooklyn) called everyone a "schvartze" or "colored" --- my grandmother's best friend was a black woman whom she played bridge and canasta with. My grandfather did not allow the woman in the house, but he would gladly eat at the black-owned restaurant down the block. He even would go to the track with the "coloreds" down the street - since they would DRIVE him to aqueduct race track.

    The black woman, who was married to a black Jewish guy (dont even ask!) never minded that she couldnt play cards at my grandparents house (frankly their house was such a dump, no one would want to go there). she always gave me a quarter when I saw her in the park my grandmother would walk me to. I think i was the excuse for them to visit outside of the card games.

    that is only the paternal side of the racial issues

    and you wonder why i am such a mess

    it is amazing how compartmentalized people can even put racism.

  29. Remember "ebonics?" A favourite quote of that time for me was from Spike Lee: "I be thinkin' ebonics be stupid."

    Whatever. I grew up in a small town that was a key point in the underground railroad on the Canadian side of the narrow Detroit River. As a result, there was an established black community (albiet mostly separate physically like your town). One of the members of that community became mayor for several terms in the past fifteen or so years. To me, African Americans as objects of racism seems "so 40 years ago."

    I'd like to say racism wanes more with each generation. But I see it shifting to other people - other targets of fear. I'm thinking the adoption of silly teenager language is not so much a problem in the grand scheme...

  30. beyotch- I need another drink. :)

  31. Great post Lisa. Still laughing. My kids still laugh at me when I use their language but I only did it to annoy them. I decided long ago that my main job as a parent was to embarrass the hell out of them!
    I now find myself trying to adapt french phrases that I hear into my conversation. Yesterday, I started a story and abruptly stopped (couldn't find the french words). The person I was talking to said "je reste sur ma faim" which translates literally to "i stay on my hunger" and means I'm left wanting more. I tried to use that phrase in a conversation today but accidentally said "je reste sur ma femme" which means I remain on my woman. My bad! It's obvious I'm a poser!

  32. It seems that you have moved from Vanilla into Rocky Road. Or don't I know you like that to be sayin that to you, yall. Oh forget it. I can't speak the language of the Souht and I sound pathetic trying. Every time I would say y'all when I was in Texas, I felt like I was in a the middle of a Will Ferrel film.


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