Friday, December 2, 2011

places & adjectives

I once made a girl cry at a party. & then she left.
It was her party.

& though it may sound like a humble brag, readers, I want you to know that I'm not proud of this fact.

I'd like to back up and say that this exchange took place at Texas A&M University.
& if I may understate a fact about this school; there were when I went there, and still are, a lot of white conservative students. A lot of racially sheltered youth.

Case in point: the first friend I made at A&M was a Mexican girl from a neighboring town who later told me that she befriended me because she mistook me for a Black person and found the prospect of her first Black friend thrilling. I never asked her if she was disappointed when she found out I was also Latina, Afro-Rican, if you will. It goes without saying that she had not met all that many Black people prior to coming to college.
But I digress.

Getting back to the story I began this post with:
I made this girl cry because I knocked on the door of the restroom she was inside. As she exited the restroom & passed me, she called me ghetto.
I will never be sure why this unraveled me to the extent that it did.
But unravel me it did.

For some long forgotten reason, on this particular night in 2007, I was wearing a pleated skirt & a neck tie. I'm thinking all the Avril Lavigne jokes I endured that evening as a consequence of this fashion choice had worn down my patience and then this tiny white girl calls me ghetto...

I spun around so fast, I gave myself an acute whip-lash & before I realized it, I was shouting at her,
"Come back and call me ghetto to my face!"
She froze. Probably out of fear.
& maybe I could sense her fear.
I generally wouldn't classify myself as confrontational but I really carped the fuck out of this diem; I walked up to her, looked straight into her pretty green eyes & said, "Tell me to my face that I'm ghetto. And afterwards, tell me why. And it better be not be because I'm brown."

I'm not really sure what I'd expected from her in that instant.
Maybe I'd hoped she'd feel embarrassed or maybe I was looking for an apology.

I definitely didn't expect her to cry.
Or leave.
& I felt pretty shitty moments later when someone told me it was her house & her party.

The worst part is that I've come to realize that in that instant,
when I shouted in this strange girl's face,
pleated skirt & all,
I was playing into her expectations.
She'd unjustly called me ghetto. I'd suddenly become uncharacteristically confrontational.
I think being at A&M long enough had created a chip on my shoulder; a chip where I stored away resentment towards white people. Or maybe I was just a racist.

Anyway, lately I've been getting yelled at by a lot of Black women.
Sometimes, I'm baffled.
I retreat into my mind and retrace all my steps: I look for the exact place where I warranted their sanction.
(The most recent times, strangely enough, had to do with dogs).
In these instances, it's as though these women can sense my intimidation; comparable to the way bears can sense apprehension and menstrual blood.
My a fore mentioned non-confrontational instincts usually mandate that I do one or more of the following:
1. Not pee;
2. Apologize--prolifically;
3. Play dead (this one is generally reserved for actual bear attacks but I keep it as an option, just in case).

Once my aggressor is gone, I often shamefully recount to myself all the things I wish I'd said in my own defense. Or berate myself, "Must you be such an inexcusable little bitch?"
The most recent time this happened, as I was talking into a mirror pretending my reflection was my verbal assailant, I stopped when I realized that I'd called this girl ghetto (in my mind & to myself, of course).

I once heard someone I dislike say, "the ghetto is a place, not an adjective." At the time, I muttered something back about places and adjectives both being nouns and topped it off by calling her a cunt...
but in retrospect, there was something to what she said.

Ghetto is an ugly thing to call someone;
it's accusing groups of people of being inferior or less than people because they're impoverished.

Of all people, I know that poverty is not a fair way of measuring characteristics like kindness, good manners, or intelligence (though it CAN and often is a wonderful way of measuring perseverance).
I know this because both of my parents grew up in ghettos.
Both of them had to work twice as hard to fulfill their dreams and THREE times as hard to make sure that my brothers and I would be free to chase after our own dreams, unencumbered by obstacles like hunger or obligations.

The word, ghetto, was first used in Venice to describe places where Jews lived.
In World War II, it became a term used to describe camps where Jews were confined and often killed.

For me to use this word is doubly insulting to my parents because my mother is VERY Jewish.
So Jewish that she hates everything and her tears are actually ocean water from the Dead Sea.

But also, it's disgusting because ghettos were places where those who were considered to be less than people, to be vile and unworthy, were forced to live.

To call someone ghetto as an insult in the contemporary context is to presuppose things about their family background, to equate them with being less than a person, & overall, to say that the poor aren't people (insert overgeneralized Republican/GOP candidate joke).
Just thinking about it right now leaves a bitter taste on my tongue.

We can lie to ourselves & think it's just a word.
But in truth, this word has racial connotations. I've never heard anyone wield this insult against someone unless the person they meant to insult was more brown than they are.

I think that subconsciously we can all feel the ugliness of this word & that's why we lose our shit or become erratic when someone directs it as us. But acting out over this word should reassure anyone it's being hurled as an insult against of a few things:
1. The person who just called you ghetto is an ignorant cunt;
2. You've just made the wrong move. You don't go around killing people to show that killing people is wrong (unless you're Dexter, a vigilante, or the American legal system). In this same way, you can't beat a bitch for calling you ghetto--the moment you do, you know what happens? She's not just an ignorant cunt anymore, she's an ignorant cunt who's just become self assured that she was right to begin with.

Point being: I'm not going to say it anymore, damn it.

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