Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lesson in Humility- Redux

Yeah boy, see how far I've come. I wrote about my increasing awareness of my own snobbery and class bias and then, in my very next blogpost, I used a term that I find incredibly offensive to describe someone who I felt to be "less than" me. I awoke this morning with the words ringing in my ears and feel a deep sense of shame to have used them. Nevermind the fact that many people have no problem with this term; it is terribly offensive on many levels to me and I used it anyway.
Here's what I wrote:
"His mother worked in the laundry room of the hospital.
She was (pardon the expression) "white trash": Old couch on the front porch, go out in public with holes in her clothes kind of poor. I really don't know how he got the ambition that he had but he wasn't like the rest of his family."
I was even aware enough of what I was doing as to "apologize" before writing it, in the "pardon my french" kind of way. How utterly hypocritical.
So, why did I do it? I was writing about my first boyfriend's mother. She never liked me and, frankly, she wasn't very likable (the entire year and a half that Steve and I dated, she referred to me as "what's her name"). I wrote about her using the words I've always used when thinking about her; words I grew up hearing: They're concise and descriptive. But I wasn't writing a novel. I was writing an essay in a spiritually oriented "journal". Golly, if I'm not going to live up to my highest self here, what hope is there for the rest of my life?
Again, I am terribly, terribly sorry to everyone I offended. I am ashamed of myself. Obviously, I've got a lot of work to do to unravel these awful prejudices I have about people and the words I use to describe and label them and myself.

This action of mine has made me revisit her with a clearer perspective than I've ever had. I see that she was probably very depressed and unhappy. She was trapped in an unpleasant job due to a lack of education and having three kids to support. My mom knew her in high school and told me years ago that she was crazy about Steve's dad. She got pregnant, they got married, had three kids and he left. Because he was an alcoholic (Irish Drunk was the name given to men like him-usually very happy but sometimes "black" angry), I imagine the years they were together were probably bad. She never really had anything that was hers. She never owned her life. She relied heavily, both emotionally and financially on her oldest son. She disliked me because I was taking him away from her. I understood that even when I was 15, but her rudeness was inexcusable to me. Now, I can see how closed she had to be, how judged she probably felt. I can see why she would dislike me (I was a perky know-it-all). She died about 10 years ago of a heart attack when she was in her late 50s. Her name was Ruth.


Anonymous said...

'"Black" angry' !
"Irish Drunk" !

You're incorrigible!

Context is everything. Anyone who tells you words are just words is wrong, and anyone who tells you words don't mean anything is wrong. Context is everything.

Friendly Mama said...

yeah about the Irish drunk and I was aware of what I was doing and still did it because, well, I guess because I'm Irish and I wasn't saying it to put him down, just as a statement. And, although it is a racial stereotype, it's very discriptive. But, yeah.

The black angry, though, is not a slur or, at least I didn't mean it to be. I see it as meaning so angry that you see black-like your vision is affected.

Oh, and would you give me a name to work with when you write? I'm not real comfortable with anonymity. Thanks for understanding and for your observation!

Jennifer said...

Hi Mary Linda,

I nominated you for a blog award. Details are at my Musings blog.