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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The trouble with assumptions

So this is my last word on a run-in a couple of us had earlier this week in this, my Web house, with a man who seemed hell bent on making broad generalizations about entire cultural groups and lambasting me for not fitting his molds of what a black man, a blogger, and a reporter should be.

Consider this an open letter of sorts.

John - that's the name you identified yourself with last evening, you messaged me then to say with a hearty "LOL" that I hadn't proven your comments were offensive and that in so many words you were just being light-hearted with your "piglet" routine.

I find it ironic that a person who questioned my "blackness," the caliber of my wife, and my commitment or friendliness to other black people, would then wrap up his comments by saying "In fact im proud that an African American has a blog at the Herald. Im sure you worked hard, and have endured many sacrifices to get where you are. I will not contribute to the hurdles which are sure to face in Miami."

Dude, you got one thing right: that I have worked hard. Otherwise, your comments generally sum up where you went wrong. Condescension is the wrong tact with me. You don't know me! And don't send me a predictable response that I don't know you either. You're right. I only know the image you portrayed of yourself through your crude words.

I knew cats like you - or the you that was portrayed through your comments - back in the day. I didn't walk, talk, look, or breathe the way they thought I should, so they challenged my being. Half of those dudes are now turning figurative tricks for a living 'cause they were so busy back then trying to fit stereotypes that they never fully developed and came into their own.

Let me tell you a little story about people not being who you think they should. When I was in college, I wrote for the campus paper. Unlike most of my colleagues though, that gig wasn't helping stock my shelves with Ramen noodles. I paid all my bills and fed myself w/a full-time job as a machinist on a nearby U.S. Naval base. The newspaper job was just a way for me to try to be a bit of a regular student, stay connected for a few hours a week with what was happening on my campus, and gain a little experience in news writing.

Fall of '97 we had an annual music fest on campus, in which a few pop groups came through and performed in our dust-gathering football stadium. The performers were R&B group SWV, pop boys 98 Degrees, rockers Foo Fighters, and I think Talk Show, the spinoff group from Stone Temple Pilots.

Anyway, I wrote a review of the performances and appearances, and I panned SWV. I felt they were lackluster and even rude in a couple of instances.

When that issue of the paper came out a couple of days later, "leaders" of the Black Student Union blew up. They accused me of being anti-black because I had criticized a black singing group. They threatened sit-ins at the school paper, boycotts of the paper, and demanded "talks" to figure out how to get more of the type of news they wanted into the paper. The talks were fine. You want things to change, talk out a plan and get it implemented. The rest was bogus though.

So for days afterward I dealt with a firestorm of angry comments and glares from students of all stripes who lived in a bubble of classrooms, dorm life, and campus activities. Much of their social interaction was limited to each other.

When I couldn't take the repetitive chatter anymore I responded with a column about what they did not know. Those same students who told me I wasn't black enough - know where they were nearly every Thursday night throughout the bulk of my junior year? Hanging out around the community TV in the student union building watching sitcoms. Know where I was those same evenings, like clockwork? Counseling juvie inmates in the local city jail - most of them black inmates.

Saturday mornings when my critics were sleeping in, I was on my way cross town from my apartment to be by my father's side (he's a retired military vet and a minister) picking up garbage on the streets of our city's poorest 'hood - a black hood, visiting with residents who were trying to hold their neighborhood together, and helping him take supplies to the sick and elderly - black folks - in that 'hood.

When the critics were griping about how tough their 12-hour-per-week jobs in the campus bookstore or cafeteria or answering phones in some professor's office were, I was spending 50 hours a week in a machine shop with guys who hated me for being young, black, and in college, and proudly told me so on a near daily basis.

Weekday afternoons when my critics were chillin', shootin' the breeze after they'd concluded the bulk of their classes I was tutoring kids - mostly black - at schools near our campus, when I should have been home asleep 'cause the graveyard shift in that machine shop was no fun.

After that column ran, calls from the BSU for protests of the paper and sit-ins ceased immediately. To their credit, several of the leaders of the group came to me and apologized. I didn't need an apology, but it showed class on their part. And to the letter, do you know what each said? "We didn't know," as in we made assumptions about who you were...and who you weren't.

Bottom line, as the kids like to say, they couldn't "fade me," and you can't either dude.

You think you're encouraging me by saying you're proud an African American is blogging for the Herald?

Save your pride and your pity. Blogs are free to any schmuck with a computer and Web access. I didn't sacrifice anything but cold weather to get to the Herald. Hate to bust your image of the woeful black man who, like That Girl, made it after all. But I got here because I'm good at what I do for a living. That plot might make for a good CBS Sunday afternoon movie, but you couldn't begin to know how far off you are about me.

Seriously, you think you know me and who I should be? Don't feel bad. You're not the first to have no idea.

That's all for me folks. I'm trading this soap box for a bed and going back to sleep.

Till next time, peace and hair grease, and don't make an ass out of u and mption.

PS. BTW John, the only hurdles I've faced in Miami are over-priced real estate, really bad drivers, and (my rapidly developing) road rage. The rest is pretty much the same as anywhere else I've been on this planet, ethnic and cultural differences notwithstanding.

10 Comments:

  • James, I am proud to be one of your readers!

    By Anonymous dogncatmom, at 10:20 AM  

  • James, pay no attention to that troll, that's exactly what he craves. He has taken the same provocateur act to Oscar Corral and Oppenheimer's blogs. Your story is lost on him. When people stop paying attention he gets bored and moves on.

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 10:37 AM  

  • JB, dawg, I feel you. Something about being judged by the content of your character. Also something about the insiduousness of being complimmented for regular activity because someone else hasn't gotten around to a more expansive world view. Those type comments fall in the "He speaks so well" category of complimentary pimp-slaps.

    But I would suggest a little less than the full court press in your response on the next go 'round. No need to justify yourself on your own blog, brother. Especially not to a fool.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 11:14 AM  

  • I would like you to tackle the following social dilemma (I’m a bit long-winded):

    A friend of my girlfriend’s is Psycho. Not just a bit crazy or too loud after tequila—but freakin’ nuts.

    She creeps whole bars full of people out and due to her behavior, ends up moving to a new city every 2 years or less.

    Both my and my girl thought, initially, that she was just a bit odd but generally nice.
    We were wrong.

    During her first few months here in Milwaukee, she dated a guy we’ll call Dude. After about two months of dating and another two of him trying to get it through her head that there was no “he and she” (I actually heard dude tell her “You are not the one” one evening at a local watering hole), she got the picture and realized they are no longer an item.

    It’s been months since she made the realization but still stalks Dude. Follows him from bar to bar to bar at night.

    This all came to a head over the past weekend. She stalked him from bar to bar again. This time he was on the lady-hunt and snagged the attention of an attractive blond. While we were all sitting at the Nomad (you remember the Nomad, James), Psycho was sitting by herself and her ex-dude and his new blond interest were sharing a chair.

    Then, outta no where, she shoves them both over and off the patio area. Both hit their heads and spill their drinks.

    But wait, it gets better. Dude and the blond then decide they have put up with enough and leave.

    Dude goes to blond’s house. He proceeds to get 40 calls and VMs from psycho throughout the night.

    Next day, Dude left blondie’s house and went home the next morning…and who does he find sitting on his back porch, still drinking and now crying, at 10:30 a.m.? Yup, it’s Psycho.

    For good reason, this freaked dude out. He’s now talking restraining order and we agree that might be in his best interest.

    (Sorry for the whole story)

    So, my question to you is: How do we (her former, now-frightened friends) let this lady know that we no longer want to ever hang out or be friends anymore? She clearly isn’t good at taking such hints…
    How do you break up with a friend?

    -SP

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 PM  

  • I say, James for President!!!

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 4:13 PM  

  • To anonymous:

    The best way to break up with a "friend" is to completely leave them out of your social circle. This is extremely difficult to do, but it means no contact whatsoever. This person has to cease to exist for you, which means no making phone calls to or aswering phone calls from this person; no making or responding to e-mail messages from this person; no responding to written letters; not answering the door when they knock or opening the door and slamming it in her face; you may have to resort to the childish act of ignoring this person when she's standing right in front of you when encountered in public. Eventually, if she won't leave your doorstep, you will have to call the police and report an intruder.

    I don't know if a restraining order or other similar injunction is available for simple harrassment without a threat of violence. For instance, if she just comes to your house, sits on the doorstep and cries because you won't talk to her or let her in, I don't know if a judge will consider that activity a threat to your physical safety such that a restraining order is necessary. (I've been there and I still don't like that judge). Plus, a restraining order is just a piece of paper that gives the cops license to arrest a person when they come too close to you. It is not a shield that will deflect unwanted contact. Especially when the person toward whom the order is directed is crazy and does whatever they want. No matter what, it will take at least 15-20 min. for a black and white to arrive after a call to enforce a restraining order. So what you will end up doing is calling the police every time she won't disappear voluntarily and maybe a few trips to jail for trespassing and/or assault will give her the hint.

    If you really care about this person, you'll do her a favor and contact any loving kin she may have and let them know she needs help (which it sounds like she needs desperately). Hopefully they'll come take her away or fill up her time so that you won't be bothered.

    Any one of these tips, while sounding harsh, is really the only way to rid yourself of mentally deranged people who have attached themselves to you.
    People used to beat those who were unwelcome liberally about head and shoulders when they became an annoyance, but we've blissfully grown out of that behavior, haven't we? Let the police or her mother do it for you.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 10:36 AM  

  • I agree that folks at ODU are ridiculously spoiled and lazy... You're awesome and you totally make me want to work harder. You did good :-)

    By Anonymous Michelle, at 3:40 PM  

  • Some people are just idiots, ya know? And not worth the effort of expending energy and angst on.

    By Anonymous Frothmistress, at 8:47 PM  

  • Powerful post. Nothing more ridiculous than people I always say.

    By Blogger Dale, at 9:22 AM  

  • Dear James, since you instigated comment screening I've not been able to access further blogs, which is a great shame as I really enjoy your writing. Or haven't you written more?

    By Anonymous Bronchitikat, at 8:21 AM  

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