Monday, February 7, 2011

A Teaching Moment on Racism? I wish. The word. Flannery. N.

It was a comic (weird comic) (dark comic) sight. Good liberal New York Episcopalians using the n-word.

It transpired when author Brad Gooch lectured on Flannery O'Connor, some months before publication of his biography, Flannery, A Life of Flannery O'Connor. This was at the same church  I wrote about in my post on R.S. Thomas. Enough about me.

I am not sure how it came up but quite reasonably Gooch was called on to explain Flannery's use of a word we find repugnant and were trained to find repugnant. The solid folk were appalled and Gooch suggested Flannery O'Connor, a southerner, was mirroring the south of her time. There was talk back and forth, nothing surprising or new. And suddenly some line was crossed.

No. Not a line. Not crossed. A taboo was obliterated. People felt free, liberated, to use the n-word, not about anyone specifically, mind you, but in discussing the stories of O'Connor we'd read, I heard sweet ladies with skin fair enough to have a lifetime of fine SPF-rich cream preserve its ivory hue spouting the n-word. And with gusto.

And getting off on it like kids who say fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. (This was not a crowd to say fuck.) Perhaps if we were discussing Henry Miller, these same ladies and gents might in a final session start sputtering the legion terms kind and abrasive describing genitalia and male and female and female and male and male joinings.

In that scenario we'd end up giggling because cunt and cock and such, said by nicely clothed white people in a meeting room of a progressive NYC church would be funny, ludicrous, a displacement and therefore silly. 

But it was the n-word.

I still wonder what was really happening. Not one of those people would use the n-word in proximity of a person of color, nor would they teach hate. I'm sure of that. But implicit conditioning of race, class and gender are among the best teachers around.  And we hear the word as booming lyric in rap and hip hop. And white people (I'm one) are our own version of a boy in a bubble. Some black people might say it's white privilege though I believe use of "privilege" gives away power. It s what it is?

I'm not judging so much as "just saying" and part of what I'm just saying is it was not the most comfortable moment of my life.  I did not use the n-word, but my life has not been all-white. (I enjoy not-all-white privilege.) And that staying conscious of such moments is one way forward to the true promises of a decent religion, those rewards being compassion, kindness, redemption.

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