Saturday, July 10, 2010

Here, there be Pickaninnies!

Roman empire cartographers marked unknown or poorly-explored areas on their maps with the legend HIC SUNT LEONES. (Here, there be lions.) English-language cartographers, when dealing with a similar situation, used the phrase we're more familiar with HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS. This post is about a different kind of undiscovered country, but it's not Hamlet's either. [For my friends who are not Shakespeare fans, DEATH is Hamlet's "undiscovered country."] It's a dangerous locale of the mind. Lemme share this story with you.

There are many wonderful things I could say about growing up and living in New Orleans. It is a unique city and culture. I'm grateful for many of the things I experienced there which became essential components of my core personality.

Unfortunately, along with the wonderful things, there are some less-than-wonderful things about that microculture. Several less-than-wonderful things. Numerous less-than-wonderful things. And those things still exist to this day, despite the fact that it is not 1953, before Brown v. Board of Education, or 1963, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I was blindingly, painfully reminded of that today during a phone conversation with my old pal Bob, who still lives in New Orleans, when he told me this story. He and his girlfriend were at a local jeweler's she likes to frequent, despite the fact that they know this guy continually says shit like "Hitler died two years too soon," implying that he would have solved the "Jewish question" if he'd only been granted a couple more years on this good earth. Asshole.

But that's not the bad thing I'm gonna talk about in this post, as you may have guessed from the title. I know, I know, it's terrible and it does deserve a rant of its own but this particular post is about something else. And don't ask me why Bob and Anita continue to do business with this guy. I didn't have the heart to ask Bob that question.

This post is about the discussion they overheard between the jeweler and another customer, a comfortably-well-to-do looking, middle-aged woman.

Ending a lengthy rant about the Kenyan-born, socialist, Muslim terrorist who's currently occupying the White House, etc., she shared with the jeweler the fact that she's the principal of a public junior high school in New Orleans and she just hates having to deal, day in and day out, with all those damned pickaninnies. And, just by the bye, her husband is a judge and sees nothing but "those people" coming through in an endless stream.

Well, she didn't complain about the Jews, at least; but OMFG!

However, before y'all lose heart, let me hasten to add that there is a silver lining in this cloud of willful ignorance and banal evil, a gold nugget dredged from this foul fen of malignant meretriciousness, a handful of emeralds cut from this racist Roc's gizzard, a happy ending you can't get from this Whites-only massage parlor; and it's this.

When I shared this story with my family, MJ and Chloe both looked puzzled, then asked, "What's a pickaninny?"

Oh my! Sweet sigh. And my anger over this evaporates into the silt-laden river of The Past, despite the fact there is clearly a modern Temporal Teabagger Tributary. Nonetheless, I declare this a clear Hope for the future! My children don't even know this word. It may still be 1953 in some places and some hearts, but in most of the U.S. there has been progress since those evil days.

Here, there be sane humans. Phew!

P.S. I Googled for images related to "pickaninny" to add some visual flair to this post. They were all just too vile to consider. Let's all just forget this word. The sooner, the better.


  1. ack. i don't know the word either. and now i'm hesitant to look it up, but i think i can deduce its meaning from your post. i'll leave it at that.

    more ack about the woman's words and sentiments. but i like the silver lining you found.

  2. It sometimes feels like '53 or '63 (or maybe 1945?) here in Indiana. Haven't heard "pickaninny" in awhile, but we get all the rest of it. Cheers to you and your girls. The world turns slowly, but it turns.

  3. We watched a DVD tonight and a movie character mentioned the N word. Both grandkids turned and asked me what the N word was. I told them. Neither had ever heard the word before and they live in the big city of Houston. Things have definitely changed for the new generation and this is one of the good changes.

  4. Great article. However, I'm curious exactly what it is you mean by this?

    "Temporal Teabagger Tributary"

  5. Heather, if time is metaphorically The Great Temporal River and we are flotsam bobbing along in it, then the past is upstream and behind us, we cannot return there, while the future is downstream and we'll get there eventually and we can maybe do things where we are (the present) to affect our course downstream (into the future). There are those, however, who live in the past. They are, metaphorically, stuck in an eddy, or an oxbow, or a tributary to The Great Temporal River, which does not move forward (downstream, into the future) but stays forever looped, limited to one location, while the actual river has moved on past them. From her comments, this woman was clearly bypassed by The Great Temporal River and locked in the limited flow of the Temporal Teabagger Tributary.

  6. Yes I understand. I'm just wondering what the word "teabagger" has to do with any of it. :-)

  7. Well, the conversation I had with Bob was lengthy and I reduced it here for the sake of readability. Even so, it seems to me that I listed several of her characteristics whcih are quintessentially teabaggerish: birther, racist, and anti-government while both she and her hubby subsist by sucking at the government's teat. How is that not the very embodiment of "teabagger"?

  8. teabagger = someone involved in the tea party movement?

  9. So, it's ok to use a deragatory term to single out a group of people you don't agree with?

    Isn't that exactly what your article is condemning.

    I just can't get past this. I really liked your article. until the end. Then it got indirectly personal.

  10. Heather, I find "Tea Party" to be far too grandiose for a loose collection of lunatic fringe elements. If you equate my dislike of people who choose evil with their dislike of people because of their skin color, then we just hafta agree to disagree.

  11. Awesome Frank. But, dang I was all sidetracked with the comments. Up heres in Canuckada we have a different definition of teabagging - don't have nothing to do with no weirdo wacko tea party.

  12. Frank, I think we are no strangers to the "agree to disagree" format of discussion. :-D

    It's not that our beliefs are different. That doesn't bother me in the slightest. It's the fact that you chose to use this derogatory term to describe a lot of people you don't know... then followed it up with a few unrelated accusations that I care not repeat, since they are extremely far from the truth. That is was bothered me.

  13. The original use of "teabag" as a verb by the right, and how the left has amused itself with it since: Salon

  14. Heather, I use that term to describe adherents to a collection of beliefs which I am familiar with, which are common to individuals I don't know personally but who subscribe to these ridiculous, and sometimes vile, beliefs. For example, the fact that I don't personally know any John Birchers doesn't make them any less crazy and doesn't prevent me from discerning their policies through their writings and actions.

    You are aware that the NAACP is preparing a specific resolution denouncing the Tea Party for its blatant racism?

  15. Wherever the term came from doesn't matter. If it's used in a hateful way, then it's derogatory.

    What I am aware of is the fact that I know a lot of people directly and indirectly involved in the tea party movement. Not one of them is racist. Not a single one. I also know a lot of people who can say the same thing. Is that a fluke? I don't really think so.

  16. I am with Heather on this one. The way I see it, the Tea Party movement is about liberty and stopping an out of control Federal government. A few strongly opinionated fringe element-types present at some rallies get photographed with their signs and the whole movement is painted with a broad derogatory brush. Not fair.

  17. Heather and Miranda, I understand your position but I disagree with you and agree with the NAACP. Yu say that your examples are the rule and racism is the exception. I say that racism is the rule and your examples are the exception. Is racism an offical part of tea-ism? No, not so far as there is a consistent, organized tea-ness, althought it is really just a disparate assembly of many Astroturf groups with a smattering of grassroots beilevers. It is not just the fringe being racist, it's endemic to the movement and publicly stated by leaders, such as they are.

    Just because someone says they're not racist doesn't mean their statement is accurate.