I really hope you didn’t think I was posting about Pabst Blue Ribbon (hence the “it’s not what you think”).
You’ve read/watched/heard the news this week. The death of DOMA. The fall of Paula Deen. You may have your opinions on DOMA, and you’ve already heard mine.
Paula Deen? I’ve stated my opinion…privately, between friends. I write in my blog in the hopes that maybe my words will touch you, strike a chord, make you think. But I try to keep things neutral on things I know nothing about.
I am not black. I did not grow up in a time of segregation. So no, I can’t imagine what it would feel like, as a black person, to have that word (you know what word I mean) hurled at me. I would be offended, I know that. No matter who said it.
I am of Irish, German heritage with some other European heritage thrown in. English, Polish, Russian…Yes, I know. I must be a stupid, fiery-tempered alcoholic with bad teeth. Right?
No. Well, my teeth aren’t blindingly white. I might need braces, but I have done well without them thus far. The only need I’d have for them would be aesthetic, and even then, they aren’t that bad.
I’ve been called a mick. I’ve been called a kraut. I have even, because of my Germanic heritage, height, blonde hair, and blue eyes, been called an anti-Semitic Nazi.
I am not racist. I am not a bigot. I am not prejudiced. When I meet someone, I don’t see the color of their skin, the gender of their partner, their ethnic heritage. I see a human being. It’s what comes out of your mouth when I meet you and give you a fair shot at getting to know me, that sets my opinion of you.
Before I get into the meat of this post, I think it’s very important that we take a look at the textbook definition of three words: Prejudice, Bigotry, Racism.
Prejudice – n. An adverse judgement or opinion formed beforehand without knowledge of the facts. Any preconceived opinion or feeling, whether positive or negative. An irrational hostile attitude, fear, or hatred towards a particular group, race, or religion. The damage cause by such fear or hatred.
Bigotry – n. Intolerance or prejudice, especially religious or racial, discrimination (against); the characteristic qualities of a bigot.
Racism – n. The belief that each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes. The belief that one race is superior to another. Prejudice or discrimination based upon race. Definitions courtesy of wiktionary.org
Three words that have similar meanings, and are sometimes, but not all the time, interchangeable. All racists are prejudiced. Not all people with prejudices are racist. Bigotry, I have found, has declined in usage, instead, the derivative bigot is used to describe a person more often than the word bigotry is used.
We all have prejudices. We’ve all been guilty of making assumptions before complete knowledge of a person, or the facts. Prejudice applies to all aspects of life, not just racism.
The ‘slurs’ I have heard hurled at me over the years (just several times…not trying to make out like I’m some persecuted victim, because I’m not) do not sound as inherently…vile…as the one most commonly hurled at black people. But I started to wonder. We all know the origins of that word. But what were the origins of some of the ones I’d heard? Let’s take a look.
Mick (Irish): Pretty self-explanatory, right? Lots of Irish people have a last name starting with “Mc”. Well yes, but there’s more to it. A lot of Irish people were named Michael, after Michael Collins, an Irish revolutionary. Mick is a common nickname for Michael.
Paddy Wagon (Irish): Not a slur, but a word of note. How many times do we use that word in common vernacular? Often enough that not everyone is aware of the origins…When the Potato Famine struck Ireland, and Irish people began emigrating from Ireland to America, they weren’t exactly given warm welcomes here in America. The common image was that an Irish man was a violent drunkard, and an Irish woman was little more than a baby-maker. Given the tendency of the cruel living conditions many immigrants, not just the Irish, faced upon arrival, the difficulties in finding a job, etc, it wasn’t uncommon for an Irishman who’d had a little too much to drink to find himself in a fight, be it with another Irishman or a prejudiced American. The term paddy wagon came from the police vehicles that would often be packed with Irish on any given night.
Paddy (Irish): Paddy, for what it’s worth is derived from Patrick, another common Irish name and the name of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick.
Kraut (German): Everyone knows about sauerkraut, a common German dish. But the word kraut itself is German for herb, and describes the leaves and stem of the plant, not the root. The word unkraut means weed, and rübenkraut is used to describe a sugar beet syrup. But in English, we associate it with sauerkraut. Since it’s a very popular side dish in Germany, prejudiced Americans, especially during WWI and WWII, took to calling people of Germanic heritage “kraut heads”, and soon it became shortened to simply “kraut”.
I could sit here for hours and dissect the various origins of a plethora of prejudicial slurs against various ethnicities and groups. And there are nasty words for every group you can imagine, not just racial and ethnic groups. Men, women, children. White, black, Irish, German, Gypsy, Arab…the list goes on. If you are a human being, there exists some slur against some aspect of yourself.
But I think that maybe we really need to stop focusing on the past. I’m not saying that in reference to Paula Deen. I’m saying that in reference to history in general. We need to never forget where we came from, and we should always be proud to be of the varying heritages that combined and led to our own individual births, so no, I’m not saying to forget the past. Jewish people will never forget the Holocaust, as well they shouldn’t (nobody should forget, really), African-Americans will never forget slavery and segregation (and neither should anyone), but people in general really need to wake up and get with the program that, in America at least, this is a melting pot.
Maybe it was called a melting pot when immigrants began to come through Ellis Island, but it was like the beginning of a stew…all the ingredients had only just been thrown in. Now it’s more like a halfway done stew…the flavors are beginning to really mingle together. Maybe in another several generations it will be ready.
Sometimes, I read news articles, and it just makes me stop and wonder at what point we had to tell each other to be decent human beings. I wonder at what point we all of a sudden had to have more and more laws and bylaws passed to remind us to be decent human beings. Maybe we’ll get to a point someday where we won’t need those reminders.
I’m not saying that any one group’s trials and tribulations should be minimized, but simply that we should be more focused on getting to a point where, both in the eyes of our governments and in each other’s eyes, we aren’t gay, straight, black, white, Jewish, Asian, etc…we’re all human beings.
Moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting. Because, as the banner across the chalkboard in my 7th grade History teacher’s classroom said…
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.