Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You're Not From Around Here, Are You?

People are often surprised to learn that I'm actually a native of the south. Though I was born and raised (in sight of water) in Memphis, I avoided cultivating a southern accent, and thanks to my parents' mixed marriage (she being Alabamian and he being Yankee, but not damyankee), I was raised with the best of both worlds. I grew up eating grits, white beans and turnip greens and I do make the best cornbread in the tri-state area, with the possible exception of Miss Baby, who is catching up to me quickly. I also learned that there was so much more to life than the Maid of Cotton pageant, duck-season, walking horses and SEC football.

Both cultures struggled mightily to instill in me the three Ds--dignity, decorum and decency. To some degree, they got through to me, although I do have my moments. By and large, I can with complete humility say that on a daily basis I at least strive not to behave like an absolute jackass. And most of those days, the sun sets on a fairly successful endeavor.

The cardinal rule of growing up in Memphis in the late 1960s and 1970s was "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Blessed (somewhat dubiously) with a sharp tongue and a ready mind, this is a real obstacle for me at times, but I really do try hard not to let some of the awful stuff roiling around in my brain actually spill past my lips.

Or in the case of blogging, drip and ooze out my fingertips. I've spent the worst part of today trying to figure out how to address a blogpost that was brought to my attention today. It not only name-checked me and someone very dear to me, but it lumped us in the same space and time with someone whose behaviour and attitudes are frequently questionable and most certainly do not reflect our values and beliefs. I write, as vaguely as possible, in hopes that those who know me and who might have read this person's blog will recognize the great gap between that writer's perspective and my own.

Blogging is a wonderful medium, allowing a great deal of freedom of expression and creativity, but as in any form of communication, there are rules and standards, often more implied than actually spelled out. Generally, it's a good rule of thumb that if it's something you wouldn't say out loud to someone, perhaps you shouldn't be writing it and launching it out into the ether. Or maybe that's just my upbringing. Another good rule is that unless you have specific permission or a reasonable context, it's unprofessional and just plain bad form to blog about coworkers and events that happen in the workplace or in an environment directly connected with the workplace.

Anyway, suffice it to say, I was not at all pleased to see my blogname linked to this person's immature and racist titter at some local politicians whom I not only hold in rather high esteem, but whose campaigns I have very publicly supported. The attitudes of the writer only support my belief that it truly is best to say nothing if one cannot think of anything original, civil or mature to say. I would also dearly hope that this blogger would study the definitions of "humor" and "racist." In a place like Memphis, where the cultural baggage definitely won't ever fit in the overhead compartment, it is essential to be aware and sensitive to the differences in races and cultures. Suggesting that we simply "lighten up" and be tolerant of remarks that smack of stereotypes and consider developing "a funny bone" serves only to reflect upon the juvenile and narrow-minded attitudes of the speaker.

As a child, I was sometimes farmed out to the churches of various family friends for a few days of Vacation Bible School in the summer. Despite being reared in a High Church Anglican parish, I really enjoyed those informal, hot days of glue sticks, hand clapping, grape juice, sugar cookies and singing songs that were ever so much livelier than the formal hymns we sang in our home church. One that has stuck with me through all the years was the one whose lyrics went "Oh be careful little hands what you do." In the nature of songs for children, the litany went on to include "be careful little eyes what you see" and "be careful little ears what you hear." The last verse reminded us to be mindful of what we say, lest little hop-toads and imps escape our lips and be scattered out into the void. There are those out there who blog who would do well to heed this advice.