Nuances in the Princess City
Niceties were what is was all about. Be nice to those less fortunate than us but don’t associate with them unless you have too. Be nice to older people but avoid them if you could because they would take up all your time. Be nice to the colored folks because they can’t help themselves for the place that there find themselves in. Be nice to your classmates unless they are beneath you, then ignore them, find a way to avoid them, and most certainly do not date them.
Mishawaka did have a large segment of poor families, of which I was one. I learned my place very early and was reminded frequently. I was lucky, however, because I was born a white male and this allowed me opportunities beyond my dreams. I profited and went to college and haven’t been classified as poor since I was in Mishawaka. But, I have always been nice to poor people, thought I understood them, and thought that I had their credentials. What I forgot along the way was that my final salary (combined with my wife’s) pushed me into the upper 10% of wage earners. I learned that education was my way out, but forgot or refused to acknowledge the part that white privilege played in my life. I am no longer poor, and haven’t been for so long that I guess I do not really understand what it means, what it is like to be poor.
When I speak to groups I tell them I grew up poor but leave out that I haven’t been there for so very long. I need to correct this and come clean. I am not poor! But I do remember what it was like and the niceties that we portray to poor people in America stinks. We treat them like all c lasses, a group to feel compassion (disguised sorrow) to be saved by white liberals. Poor in America is thought of as a Black or Latino problem, the statistics reveal that there are more poor white Americans that any other group. However, the percentage of poor people in African-American or Latino/a groups is higher within their groups. Therefore, white America associates being poor with being Black or Latino/a. Being a poor American is not an enviable or nice place to be – the richest country on earth has the highest percentage of poverty; yet we pretend that we have solved the problem with governmental fixes.
Pity them, be nice to them, but don not invite them to our home. Mishawaka and America.
Fringe groups abound in America and being poor is one of the groups. Another group that doesn’t fit the white male, heterosexual, Christian, able bodied and middle class mold are gays, lesbians transgendered and bi-sexual folks. People who are GLBT (Gay Lesbian , Bisexual, Transgendered) are relegated to Hades in American culture. They are described as mentally deficient, unsaved, recalcitrant, dirty and below contemporary American standards.
Growing up I used many derogatory phrases towards GLBT folks, that was what I was taught and believed. Great social pressures were brought to bear upon me to conform. Be nice but avoid. You could not hug a man because you would be considered a closet gay man. Two females who enjoyed being together were called lesbians. You all know this talk, you all practiced it, including me. We made the jokes, laughed and did not dispute the unnaturalness of it all. We were taught to condemn GLBT people in our homes, schools, churches and the media. They were to be scorned.
I met my first openly lesbian person in college. She was my friend before telling me that she was a lesbian. Asked me if I wanted to meet her significant other – I said yes and developed a friendship with both. Dissonance again reared its ugly head from what I was taught to believe and what I knew from my two friends. The dissonance meant that I could not forget or erase my new knowledge because I really cared for these folks – for god’s sake they were my friends. But, the niceties of my former life kept creeping in. I wondered if the “stories” of some of my former high school and elementary teachers being lesbian were true. Now, I have no facts to support that they were but, if they were, then my friends would say that it was OK.
I met these two friends in the late 60’s. On the path of my life I have been fortunate to now have many GLBT friends. Now it is simply friendships and not a moral, political or personal hang-up – they are my friends. Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes or do stupid things. Of late, I have made a friend who is bi-sexual very upset with me because of my own stupidity and callousness. He is an outstanding person who did not deserve my errors of omission.
You see, being nice was so ingrained in me that I forgot what total honesty was, the richness it could bring into my life. My GLBT friends offer their selves to me in totality and I must respect everything about them. My friend, if you read this, I meant it when I said if I were bi-sexual I would look you up. I love you for who you are and for what you do! However, I remain heterosexually and married to my wife for 32 years yesterday. Please remember, you are my friend.
I started this with the flagrant uses of niceties. It is rampant. I am not really that nice. I used to think that being accepting and tolerant was what need to be done to end all the racism in America. I know that racism isn’t just a black and white thing. It extends to GLBT, ablest, classism, Islamophobia and a host of other things.
Mishawaka gave me so many nice things. Mishawka gave me a whole bunch of baggage. Mishawaka gave me friends.