Porch monkeys, maroons, and being cheap: racism and language, in three vignettes.

by | Jul 20, 2020 | Personal | 0 comments

CW: How I have learned more about racism through my experience of language as a white child and as a woman.

When I was young, my summers were spent with my grandmother, who spent her summers traveling the US, the world, and a few weeks every year in South Carolina with a woman (not really sure what their relationship was) who was a poor grandmother with a clan around her.

It was there that I learned about banana mayonnaise sandwiches, that cornrows effing HURT, and that I was a porch monkey. Because that’s what the adults in that community called the roving band of children as we went from house-to-house, eating everything like locusts, swarmed the woods, terrorizing the flora and fauna, and hanging out at night while people played music and sang.

I also learned I cannot sing.

And I learned that it’s OK to sing enthusiastically anyway.

Grandma didn’t really approve of that part, but, well, that never stopped me.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade after my last trip there that I learned that a porch monkey was not one of the members of a wild band of children “terrorizing” neighborhoods, but instead is a racial slur.

And I was mortifed.

And seriously, deeply, confused. Because I was introduced to that term in the south (I learned the racist meaning in the north), surrounded by black people who had welcomed me into their lives as if I were part of the family. And I learned the racist meaning from white folk I barely knew.

I never identified as a porch monkey again.

+++++

A few days ago, @Lady_Loreign posted:

The Real Maroons…and then there was Bugs Bunny #BLM

And I got to learn (more) about my indoctrination to racism through cartoons. And Bugs Bunny.

And realized I’ve used the term “maroon” to mean a mispronunciation of “moron,” because that’s what I thought it meant.

I’ve chosen to stop using it for anything except the color, of course. But I have used it before. Incorrectly. And that’s still out there. On Fet, even.

+++++

In 1999, an aide to the DC mayor was lambasted for using the word niggardly.

I remember the news, and sitting next to my husband, who was dark-skinned, Autralian Aborigine American (as opposed to African American, which he said made a difference), discussing how STUPID some people were to think that word and the N-word were related.

I mean, really.

Could they not open a dictionary?

And he agreed with me.

I’ve used that story several times over the years to lambast the idea of protesting the wrong things.

And at some point in my past, while still knowing the differences between the words, I realized that there are plenty of words I could use instead of that one, and that it takes almost nothing to remove a word from my personal lexicon to avoid potential misunderstandings and hurt.

For example, I could use:

  • parsimonius
  • miserly
  • cheap
  • skinflint

And so on. And if I could not come up with another word to use to get my meaning across, I was the stupid one.

And an asshole as well.

So, for today, I don’t really have any amazing way to wrap this up, or a lesson that I can impart. Because we are all at different places in our lives and on our paths and in our compassion for others.

I guess I’d just like to say to those who can, “Please keep speaking up. You have made a difference to me, and in turn, I have been able to make a difference to others.”

Thank you.

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