Quote of the day...er...week...umm...hey, look, a quote!!

"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

For old quotes, look here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Which Young Kyddryn Has a Vocabulary Lesson

Inspired by Halushki's post.
Some time ago - never mind how long ago - Big Brother joined the US Army.

He was fresh out of high school and he had plans that involved blowing things up, shooting stuff from a distance, and completely rearranging his ankles in new and interesting ways. He and the Army were a match made in heaven, by gum!

Once he made it through basic training, we got to go and watch him march across a field with a whole bunch of other fellows who looked remarkably alike, the Army equivalent of graduation day. I went with Mum and Spouse (my father's mother), and maybe one or two others. Hey, it was a while ago - never mind how long ago - and I can't remember every little thing, can I?

The pertinent thing is, Spouse was there with us.

As we watched the newly-minted soldiers march past, we also watched their families. There were people of many ethnicities present.

Now...I was raised in the Wilds of New England. The people with whom I lived, breathed, was educated, and made mayhem were rather...homogeneous. We looked, to be frank, like we'd been carved out of cream cheese.

Bigotry (not racism, which is something else entirely, a word so ill-used I can hardly believe it hasn't collapsed in a faint and refused to rise form the Davenport for fear of further abuse) was something to which I was a stranger. There was no bigotry in my life. The words, emotions, and concepts of bigotry were as foreign to me as the nation of Turkey remains to this day.

I didn't care then, nor do I now, what color a person's skin was. The external coloration has nothing to do with the internal makeup, and it's what's within that matters most to me. If I judged everyone by the actions of one, the I would hate everyone equally, having known hurt at the hands of men and women of a number of hues and genetic dispositions. In fact, should I allow the external to be my only guide, I would write humanity off entirely and perhaps seek to live among a throng of butterflies, having suffered nothing more than a vigorous flapping by one enthusiastic lovely, which tickled but was otherwise harmless.

Why does it matter?

Well, back to this graduation thing.

Once the parade and ceremonial fuferaw were done, families mingled and waited to greet and congratulate their graduates. Spouse looked around us with keen interest and observed "Look at all the little Pickaninnies!" I have no idea if I've even spelled that correctly, and spell-check isn't saying.

Mum looked pained...but I must have looked as confused as a dog with a grape...what the heck was a...whatever it was she said??

I had sense enough to bite my tongue until Mum and I were alone...but it wasn't easy. Since I was a child, I have loved words and have never been afraid to ask what a new one means and how I might best use it. Pickaninny sounded like something delightful, festive, like...balloons, or pantaloons, or Calliope, and I wanted to roll it around on my tongue, savor it, feel it fizz and pop before releasing it to the delight of would-be listeners. However, I couldn't use a word I didn't know...I have such a resentment towards people who misuse my beautiful language, I won't be one of them - never let it be said I abuse the language...if I've done something wrong it is most likely from ignorance, and I won't be the least upset to be shown how I've erred and how I may right myself.

So...Pickaninny. What was it? Did it taste good? Could it fly? Was it a hitherto unknown article of clothing? What, what??

Once we were alone, I asked Mum about the word, about its meaning and why she looked so peculiar when Spouse said it.

And she told me...bless her, my Mum, who knew I had as much idea of what bigotry was about as a babe would have as to the mechanics of an internal combustion engine...she explained that the word was...derogatory.

My grandmother didn't use it with hatred or irony, just with the ease of her years and generation, but still...

Except in telling this story a time or two (usually to illustrate a point about how easily one may enact bigotry, how unconscious it can be), I've never used the word. It's there, in my personal lexicon, along with a few other unpleasant and unspoken epithets, but it languishes.

What prompted this jaunt down memory lane? Another blogger wrote about her recent experience with an older customer who expressed, much as my grandmother did, bigoted sentiments with the ease and familiarity of her generation...not with rancor, or hatred, but out of a habit born of her times. It reminded me of that day, and how surprised I was to learn that anyone had ever been judged as less-than because of pigmentation.

I'm still surprised by it, and I have been living in Redneck Central for nearly a quarter of a century, now.

1 comment:

Momlady said...

You know, I think I'll get out the dictionary and look that word up as I don't remember the origin (never having used the word myself).