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This is a question Common

Freddy Woo writes, "My wife thinks calling the front room a lounge is common. Worse, a friend of hers recently admonished her daughter for calling a toilet, a toilet. Lavatory darling. It's lavatory."

My own mother refused to let me use the word 'oblong' instead of 'rectangle'. Which is just odd, to be honest.

What stuff do you think is common?

(, Thu 16 Oct 2008, 16:06)
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A small discourse on "being common".
I have given this a lot of thought, and realized what it is that has been bothering me about this QOTW. Please bear with me, as I may ramble a bit here.

We’re discussing being “common” here, a touchy subject to say the least. At least one person has been enraged by what she perceives as elitism in the posts and has refused to join in. I have been accused of being racist myself in here- which I firmly deny- for getting annoyed by, as I put it, white kids pretending to be black.

The real issue here is not race or class, but pretense.

Let’s start with the thing that was causing cries of elitism. An example- one poster wrote of a woman who made a big deal of champagne and ended up with Asti Spumante. Why is this funny? Because the woman was pretending to be upper class, when she clearly didn’t know what she was doing. In other words, she was pretending to be part of a group she clearly didn’t belong to.

Another example: I wrote of skinny white teenage boys pretending to be black. I also wrote of white kids in dreads pretending to be Jamaican, and was criticized sharply for saying that races have given behaviors.

Both cases have the same root: people pretending to be part of a culture that they clearly are not from.

Let’s take the woman with the Asti Spumante. Had she really learned something of champagnes, she would probably have ordered something else, and would not have made such a big issue over what she was drinking. As it is, she was emulating the appearances of affluence and doing it badly. In other words, she was a poser, and was immediately seen as such. (I think the English term for this is “bounder”.)

In the case of the kids pretending to be black, it gets a lot more touchy because race is involved. I knew as I was posting that something wasn’t translating properly, but it took me a while to put my finger on it. I was using a form of shorthand to communicate an idea about behavior among groups, and it didn’t quite work, as I suspect that things go a bit differently over in England than they do here. Let’s see if I can expand on this a bit.

On the one hand we have inner city black kids. I don’t know exactly how things go over there, but here the inner city kids of all races tend to share certain behaviors, which you can most easily see in hiphop videos and the like. Most of our inner city kids are black- hence the stereotype of the black kid in the hoodie and baggy pants and brand-new sneakers.

On the other side are the kids from the suburbs. They’re mostly white, have pretty much always had a meal on the table and a roof over their heads, haven’t had to deal much with the crime that plagues the poor areas of the inner city, and have generally had pretty easy lives. There’s not a lot of deprivation out in the suburbs- the kids often own their cars and usually live in houses with central heating and plumbing, their refrigerators are usually not empty, and they can afford new clothing as needed.

So what’s so irritating and asinine to me is seeing these white affluent kids pretending to be inner city impoverished thugs, when clearly they aren’t. Again, they’re emulating appearances and taking on trappings of a culture that they have never been a part of. The same thing applies to the white kids pretending to be Rastas, when they’ve obviously come from somewhere in suburban America. They’re adopting the trappings of another culture.

Imagine, for a moment, if I were to start wearing tweed suits and a bowler and carrying an umbrella and trying to put on an English accent. I’m a white middle-class guy in his 40s from America- wouldn’t this strike you as being ridiculous? It’s not cold and wet over here, so the tweed and umbrella are not needed as they are there, and I’m from New York State so the accent would be utterly false, even if I could pull it off. So why would I start acting like I was from another culture?

For that matter, let’s take it a step further- what if I were to start wearing a turban and a beard and acting like a Sikh? Let’s face it, I have blond hair and grey eyes and don’t look even remotely Indian. Wouldn’t that be deserving of ridicule?

The thing that makes me rather angry when I see this is that these people are taking the trappings of another culture as their own, and in the process creating almost a parody of that culture. Were I a member of the culture I saw them imitating I would find it to be highly insulting. It’s like putting on the robes of a Buddhist monk or a Catholic priest when you’ve never been anywhere near a temple or a seminary.

So this is what makes “being common” so irritating. It’s not a matter of being superior to someone else, it’s a matter of not behaving as a member of your own culture. I was born in America and have lived here for 45 years now, and was born into a middle class suburban family. That’s who I am, and that’s how I behave. I don’t pretend to be anything else, as it would be silly and rather insulting. I don’t pretend to be affluent, nor do I pretend to be from Da Hood. I’m quite proud to be what I am. I have no issues with people from other cultures, and am perfectly content to have them around me- but I’m not going to pretend that I’m one of them, because I’m not. I wouldn’t disrespect them in that way.

And there’s this morning’s rant. Go right ahead and flame me if you must, but this is where I stand.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 13:49, 33 replies)
Very eloquently put.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 13:57, closed)
Wot she said.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:04, closed)
I agree
with the esteemed Chickenlady.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:16, closed)
Kinda wandered about a bit..
But I agree with you on your points, especially white dreads; despicable. However, did you get flamed previously for using a 'bad word' when describing said kids?
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 13:57, closed)
I don't use the N-word, ever. I might describe them as wannabees, chavs and thugs, but certain words are very much off-limits because of their connotations.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:00, closed)
Despite the possibility of flaming, I would like to say
white-wannabe-black kids are occasionally referred to as 'wiggers' over here.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:49, closed)
That's a common term here as well.
But as it's a contraction of "white nigger" it's generally considered to be extremely politically incorrect, and is borderline taboo. For that reason I've started referring to them as chavs over here, as the chavs over there have basically adopted chunks of the American urban gangsta hiphop culture.

Besides, it's a slightly more obscure term here.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:54, closed)
Mate of mine used to have dreads and a tweed suit
and he spoke in a middle class accent because he was middle class. He liked marijuana and books. I liked marijuana and books also but never had the courage to dread my lovely ebony locks. I miss them. Hair is for youth, books are for life. Dreads are for anyone. Not just rastas.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:01, closed)
you're ace
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:48, closed)
I think the point people miss about racism in particular is that it's not highlighting the differences between two races, it's highlighting that those differences matter, or that one is superior to the other.

Your post on wiggas (as they are generally known here) was far from rascist, merely a humourous observation as to the differences between white and black cultures and how ridiculous one looks when attempting to copy the other.

Jolly good rant, sir.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:09, closed)
Can I ask then...
How come the only black (as in, gentlefolk of Afro-Caribbean extraction) metal fans were 'In living Colour', that bloke what replaced Max Cavalera in Sepultura and Phil Lynnot?

Where are the tight panted, long-haired, black t-shirt-ed coconuts?

(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:13, closed)
Slash from Guns & Roses - English-African American from Stoke On Trent.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:57, closed)
Would these guys fit the bill?
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 19:18, closed)
presumably people forgot about Ali G already...
That character pretty much defines the concept of the Wigga.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:23, closed)
Don't take to heart some random strangers comments about something you posted that they ranted about without bothering to check what it was you actually meant.

They are just lazy and dull people.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:23, closed)
a step further?
Q: What if I were to start wearing a turban and a beard and acting like a Sikh?

A: If you'd just converted to Sikhhism, it would presumably be compulsory.

And maybe you should go with the tweed suit and bowler hat thing after all. It's good to test your cultural boundaries once in a while.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:26, closed)
but what if I were just wearing it because I thought it looked cool?

Another rant: the so-called pagans who go around like something out of a bad Stevie Nicks video, wearing the strange clothes and chirping "Blessed Be!" and making sure you see their pentacle. They're imitating the trappings of a religion, and may even claim to be a member of said religion, but usually really have not studied that religion and don't have any idea of what they're doing. Worse: often they'll start worshipping gods from other pagan religions (pagan meaning non-Christian in this case) without really knowing anything about that other religion. Is it really appropriate to call on Diana as the Goddess and Thor as the God? How 'bout Brigid and Ra?

Believe me, I've seen a LOT of that. And it gets under my skin like a bad case of scabies.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:33, closed)
I get what you mean
If you're going to choose a pantheon, it's not like bloody fusion cooking.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:16, closed)
I always saw it that if you're not a Druid or practicing classical Greek, Roman or Egyptian religion, you should leave the God and Goddess unnamed- or else assign them their own names.

Actually, I kinda like the idea of calling them Fred and Wilma.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:24, closed)
I don't bother with the eternal verities too much at the moment
I just keep a piece of amethyst with me at all times for some reason I have yet to figure out, but there we are. Still jealous of you seeing the sidhe though! Incidentally, Fred and Wilma- bloody good idea.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:28, closed)
The sidhe
was a very strange experience. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Apparently there's a kind of firefly called a "blue ghost" that behaves like what I saw- but they're very rare, and only live in one small area in the southern US. What they would be doing in the Adirondack Mountains is beyond me.

The last time I saw them up there I was standing at the edge of a swamp. As I stood there a tiny blue pinpoint of light appeared less than three feet from my foot, and very slowly moved across the ground. I watched it for about five minutes, and so did my girlfriend.

Very strange and wonderful.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:44, closed)
My american friend refers to this as
"Buffet style"

(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 16:37, closed)
Here's a pretty good take on the whole thing, really. I especially like the "Misconceptions" part myself.

"I found this Wiccan book and it's everything I've always believed in! Even the paranormal stuff that Christianity refuses to admit exists!" (Wow, you finally read a book? Maybe two, even?) If Wicca vaguely fits your beliefs, then it must explain everything supernatural and non-Xian, too -- even if the religion itself doesn't say anything about spirit animal guides or ouija boards or runes.
We all know that Wicca applies universally to everything, so everything must apply universally to Wicca, too! That's why we can put unicorns, dragons, faeries, and various other mythological creatures (which actually exist, and are friendly and helpful despite all the legends) on our webpages. So break out your wiccan I-Ching set, your wiccan Amerindian totem pole, and your wiccan Egyptian ankh, and put 'em all on your altar to Athena (or Bast, or Kali -- any Goddess will do).

(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 17:02, closed)
You when a bit loon in some of your replies
where you're assinging races roles. ie educated well spoken black person is behaving like a white person...wich reduces down to

black = thug
white = nice person
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:52, closed)
^^ *rolls eyes*
Repeats earlier post.

Don't take to heart some random strangers comments about something you posted that they ranted about without bothering to check what it was you actually meant.

They are just lazy and dull people.
( Big-girl's-blouse is a dirty old woman on..........................., Fri 17 Oct 2008, 14:23, Delete, Edit, Reply, I like this!)
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:04, closed)
I was using that as a kind of shorthand, which is what didn't translate well. In America, blacks tend to hold themselves very much separate from whites, even the more educated middle-class blacks. There's an entire other culture here that mostly falls along racial lines.

People from outside the US are a different case. The UK news guy from Trinidad is no more a part of American ghetto culture than I am. Ditto on the people from Trinidad I've known here- they're every bit as puzzled by American black kids as I am, and tend to identify with whites.

What's really interesting to me is the schism within the black culture that you can see by looking up the controversy regarding Bill Cosby. He put it very strongly and eloquently, and showed in sharp relief the problems that are now causing clashes between the young black hiphop culture and the rest of society. Coming from Cosby in particular it's interesting, as he was one of the people at the front of the Civil Rights movement back in the 60s and was extremely outspoken at that time as well.

Anyway... go back and read the above post, and if it still doesn't make sense to you, then I give up.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 15:06, closed)

Sir, I congratulate you on your eloquence, sensitivity and above all, the mahoosive balls it takes to write a post regarding an opinion on racial stereotypes.

Every brilliantly written word of your post is either a) Correct, or b) Your opinion which you are completely entitled to.

You don’t deserve any flaming - I’ve lost count of the amount of times people slag off America on this site, and you patiently put-up with the ill-educated bilge-buckets with such dignity that it makes me proud to have met you (and drunkenly talk to you on the phone once)

Keep your pecker up TRL!

One other thing – the mention of the ‘N’ word reminds me of the classic Viz Letter:

“How is it that when ‘ICE-T’ uses the ‘N’-word on a song he gets a million dollars and a MOBY award, yet when I used it at my 8 year old son’s football game I was asked to leave the sidelines!

Bloody double standards eh?”
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 16:27, closed)
Thank you.
In truth, last night I was very angry at having been basically called a racist in here for some of the things I posted yesterday. I'm not racist. I have no issues at all with people whose ethnicity is different from mine, and whose skin color and hair texture is not like mine- in fact, like many men I have a bit of a weakness for exotic looking ladies. So it really ground on me to be called a racist- but at the same time, I understood why they were saying it. I knew that the problem was that I wasn't expressing myself clearly enough.

So this morning as I was showering and brushing my teeth I was thinking long and hard about how to get the real point across, that it wasn't so much a racial thing as a cultural thing. That's when it hit me- American culture and sub-cultures are different from English ones, so the terms I was using to express myself were not translating properly. Another American would have understood, but the English wouldn't.

This also triggered me thinking about the question itself. I read what Chickenlady posted about it and how angry it was making her, and while I understood her point I could feel that there was something else going on here besides feeling smug about being "better" than poorer people. I've known- and fallen in love with- people who come from much poorer backgrounds than mine who I liked and respected, even if they weren't the most refined people I've known. At the same time I don't have any use for people who flash their bling and make a big show of demanding "only the best" when they're clearly not used to it- so did this make me an elitist? And that's when it hit me that again it's a cultural issue.

Doubtless there are others who have delved far more deeply into this than I have and have expressed it more eloquently and in more detail than I have, but in my case I was merely defending my positions and trying to give people something to think about.

Anyway- if you ever get over here, the first night's beer is on me!
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 16:42, closed)
You have just shot to pieces the cliched 'Merkin stereotype. I, for one, salute you sir.
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 20:56, closed)
Thank you.
Actually, I suspect that my attitudes in these matters are really not that unusual- it's just that expressing them tends to be a bit risky, as you invariably end up with someone accusing you of being a racist or an elitist.

In a semi-anonymous website I can thrash this out with few repercussions. Were I to have had this conversation with a co-worker, most likely I'd be escorted from the premises immediately. Sad, really...
(, Fri 17 Oct 2008, 22:08, closed)
I'm sure
I've read a Terry Pratchet book where he talks about a load of black kids in Jamaica running around in wax jackets and brogues calling each other Tarquin and Cecil.
You are so right.
(, Sun 19 Oct 2008, 23:17, closed)
"it’s a matter of not behaving as a member of your own culture..."

massively specious argument that one - well done.

some might consider that sort of imitation as the sincerest form of flattery... is it? not in all cases imho, but neither is it always 'insulting' either.

(, Mon 20 Oct 2008, 9:53, closed)
Well said Sir.
A tricky topic handled with aplomb and honesty. I couldn't agree more and what's more it was very nicely written. Have a *click* - You earned it!
(, Mon 20 Oct 2008, 10:35, closed)

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