Date: Wed, 26 Oct 1994 05:33:00 EDT From: "David A. Johns" Subject: Offensive terms Natalie Maynor said: # And I will add, in response to the comment by somebody else that # "nigger" is used "especially in the South," that in my 51 years # of living in the South I have never heard anybody use the word -- # except to talk about the fact that it is an offensive term. I'm # not, of course, saying that nobody in the South uses or has used # the term. I'm simply saying that enough people don't use it that # I've managed to lead a pretty normal life for all these years # without bumping into the Southerners who do use it. Well, I'm afraid I can't say as much for my one year in Waycross, Georgia. I hear the word at least a dozen times a week. One source is a group of men, mostly retired, who socialize on the streets of my residential neighborhood just after sunup, walking their dogs, jogging, or whatever. One neighbor is obsessed with how blacks are ruining the country, the schools, and the YMCA, and alternates in his references between "nigger" and "black", the latter, I think, in deference to me as younger, more educated, and an outsider. During Ken Burns's "Baseball" series another neighbor was talking about the "nigger league" as though that were the term used on the show. A particularly painful incident occurred one morning while I was sitting in the waiting room of a local opthamologist. There were probably about 20 people in the room, including three or four middle-aged black women. At one side sat two elderly white women, upper class by their accents, clothes, and hairdos. One of them was apparently a bit deaf, judging by how loud she spoke, and maybe a bit senile as well. At some point she decided she wanted to talk to her friend about the "nigger who killed his wife in Los Angeles". The entire room froze. Her friend desperately tried to change the subject, but this woman kept on, with "nigger" this and "nigger" that, eventually getting around to how fair his kids were, and what a shame it was that "they" were "mixing our blood" like that. Among my students, generally working class, average age 28, range 18-40 with a few outlyers, I have never heard the word. I have, however, heard the moral equivalent: one young white male started ranting one day about how "they should be grateful, because they'd all still be cannibals in the jungle if it wasn't for us." But he did wait until there were no blacks in the room, and at least he knew he wasn't supposed to use "that word". To northerners, the racial tension in this community is palpable. Most whites seem to have accepted the notion that blacks are equal before the law, but they still don't want to have anything to do with them. Blacks mingle with whites in public, but are much more silently hostile toward whites than in the North, especially the men. But every incident of outright rudeness I have heard of here, on the part of whites, has been directed not at blacks alone, but at mixed groups, such as the faculty of the college out at a country restaurant. "Separate but equal" is still the ideal. On the other hand, many of my students -- not a random sample of the community, of course -- are very concerned about race relations and seem willing to break with the traditions of the area. I see this more clearly among young women than among men. Southern society, as I see it here anyway, is certainly complex, and although stereotypes are not very predictive, it's not hard to see where they came from. And there are certainly many aspects of southern culture that I, as an outsider, find disturbing, if not offensive. So let's not talk about the flag, hear? David Johns Waycross College Waycross, GA