Monday, April 16, 2007
bringin' bougie back: or, do manners trump bigotry?
thanks to an old grad school friend's visit from out of town i spent the whole weekend doing pleasurable things: cooking, spending time with friends, laughing, drinking, eating, and cutting flowers to within an inch of their short lives. i had no time to spare on all things imus.
but today is different. all my doctor appointments aborted for reasons or another so now i have a rare loose afternoon to my self and i'm spending it thinking about manners. yes, manners. etiquette. the preferred way to treat one another. the 'please and thank you' moments of our lives.
manners are occupying my thoughts because it's just too hard to think and speak about race or gender. outside of academic or heavily politicized circles, regular people have no idea what i'm talking about when i say things like 'white privilege', 'race privilege,' 'internalized racism', 'misogyny,' 'minstrelsy' or 'hegemonic discourse.' they get upset when i say that patriarchy is a system, rather than a guy who sits across the bus from you. they don't want to look at power, context, our sexual or racial history or think about what it means to be implicated in cultural practice.
they just want to say bad words and get away with it because it makes them feel good. (sort of like how a child discovers the thrill of saying his first 'fuck.')
and the only way that people will get the message, especially (but not exclusively) white and black men, that saying these things (i.e., bitch, whore, nigger/nigga, nappy dug out and all the especially tart things men like to throw around their funky locker rooms or board rooms) builds up like plaque and makes all of us sick (especially those of us who are called bitch, whore, ho, nigger/nigga or nappy dug out) is to call them out on how very rude it is.
more than anything, white people understand manners, and for a long time, manners was also how the black community policed itself: whatever our actual economic status, we acted bougie. but bougie fell out of vogue once the huxtables disappeared from TV and now it seems we have to bring the bougie back. this is not without its problems; being bougie or suddenly becoming a culture of 'manners' is uneasily akin to 19th century behavior books. it concentrates on the manner of things rather than the matter, so to speak. for a feminist like me to say 'if only people weren't so rude!' - it sounds ineffective, school marmish and old fashioned.
but what else can our sexist, racist culture handle?
its proven it can't handle big, complex thoughts like sexism and racism; it has had at least a century to grapple with and discover its finer self. but it hasn't. so, like a spoiled, feces-throwing child in an episode of Super Nanny, it must be put on the naughty mat and made to face the corner and not move until it really means 'i'm sorry' and knows what it said and why it can't ever be said again.
calling for a national rebirth of civility and manners in our public discourse is infantilizing, i know. but, after all, isn't this what our parents told us whenever we got into trouble and whined about it: "if you're going to act like a child, expect to be treated like a child."