Friday, September 19, 2008

Anal Retentive Good Ol' Educated American Citizen

Last week Mr. Clark and I had to call the cops for a disturbance above our apartment. It appeared that the tenants above us have an untrained dog who barks and barks, and stomps and stomps and digs his/her claws into the carpet right above our bedroom at the wee hours in the night. It's so loud that when we audio recorded and played it for the cop, he could hear it very loudly! We didn't want to resort to calling the cops, since I wouldn't describe this as instance an emergency; however, we followed all rules for complaints designated by our complex, wrote letter after letter, etc. and still faced the same disruptions.

Long story short, the issue has sense been resolved and we don't hear much from the dog anymore. But what is really interesting are the things the cop said or implied to us as good ol' law abiding middle-class citizens (while not directly quoted verbatim, here's the gist of what was said):

Officer: I think you guys can settle this with the neighbors since you're obviously educated people

Me: *Raises eyebrows [hmmm. is this because I put on my white people soundin' voice, even though at midnight, I hadn't taken my dew rag off an let my hair down

Mr. Clark: silence...

Officer: *uncomfortably. Well, you know what I mean; it's obvious that you're model tenants (citizens?) and you're the type of people this complex what to keep -- I mean, look at this apartment. It's immaculate ....

Me: *proud. Thank you.

Officer: Just try to work it out with the neighbors and let me know if this still isn't settled. If we have to take this to court, it could take weeks.

Me and Mr. Clark: We'll try. Thanks.
While this post is not attempt to play any race or class cards (although both may be embedded in this discourse), or fault the officer in any way -- since I do believe he's really a nice guy and pretty much talked to us for roughly a half hour, as he tried to establish his rapport with our community. It does remind me of some issues that Lynn Bloom discussed over a decade earlier in her essay,"Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise." For readers less familiar with this essay (although a common one in rhet/comp circles), Bloom identifies major elements of the middle class and how they are appropriated in freshman composition courses:

  • Self-reliance, responsibility
  • Respectability ("middle-class morality")
  • Decorum, propriety
  • Moderation and temperance
  • Thrift
  • Efficiency
  • Order
  • Cleanliness
  • Punctuality
  • Critical Thinking

While I'm sure tens of readers might associate any of these with the good, law abiding citizens, I will highlight how a few of these apply. Order and cleanliness are obvious ones as they both pertain to the officer's remarks regarding my apartment. And critical thinking (writing formal letters, problem solving with the officer, etc.) is also an obvious one that comes to mind. But self-reliance, respectability, and decorum are also implicated. Self reliance suggests that citizens be responsible for their own actions, and this was in part my and Mr. Clark's frustrations with the dog. We both assumed that because of the dog's tantrums, he/she was untrained, and that it was the responsibility of the owners to train their dog. And it may be assumed that when people don't train their dogs, they are not following decorum or ettiquette. Similarly to the freshmen comp class, "Teachers, implicitly equating propriety with good character as well as good manner" (660), and such was the case in my situation. When people don't follow appropriate decorum, issues of respect may also arise. We felt we were disrespected by the complex for not responding quickly enough (punctuality) to our complaints, even though we followed their procedures. And we also felt disrespected by our neighbors who were familiar with our complaints (at least according to the leasing office), but took too long to change their behaviors.

Suffice it to say, I'm well aware of critiques on the cultural biases associated with these middle-class attributes. What's more important, though, are the ways in which it is surprising when people of color subscribe or appropriate these same attributes that proponents of the white middle class often impose chastise people of color for not subscribing. This too, reminds me of the surprise at Barack Obama being articulate. And while I did attempt to resist some of these cultural imposations by wearing my head scarf (which many Black women wear to protect their hair), and although my apartment contains several paintings and sculptures of African American art (I even got a Black Jesus up in there too!), it was only noticed verbally the ways that my ideology attempted or was assumed to subscribe to the white middle-class.


1 comment:

I Q said...

understandable, I think it is unavoidable since stereotype is deep-root in America. let me rephrase it, i think it is easier for me to show you instead of make a statment. In my homecountry, our population is consisted of 56 ethnic groups, discrimination or bias (i didn't know the term until i immigrate here) exist in our country (but not that severe). when i was in school, i often seen there were a group of people living in vacant property without anything, their basic appliances were mattress, rice cooker and that is all about it. one time, i pulled my grandma's sleevs and asked "grandma, why don't they go home and stay here camping, there is no amusement park around here" then my grandma replied:"don't go near them, they are from countryside, poor, illiterate and work in the lowest class." I didn't get what they mean but i know that they are not the type of people i want to hang out with, they are poor and illterate (they speak their dialect all the time, they don't speak mandarin or having accent speaking mandarin). ever since the incident, I perceive them as low-class citizens who always work as a hard laborers, dirty work. I heard a lot negative comment on them from my ethnic group (Han, a dominant ethnic group in my country). i bet my grandma would be surprised if one of them could read or write or even speak fluent mandarin. There is another story, I am from southern in which are agriculture concentration and people from Northern are more scholars or well-educated. There are very few kids from Southern China at my age go to college and majority of international students at MSU are from Northern, they were quite surprised that i am going to college when i first met them. I have received such compliment (i would perceive it that way): "girl, you are quite different from those from southern that i met before, you don't even have any accent speaking mandarin (people from southern has a heavy accent speaking mandarin), and you are quite polite and educated."
generalization is what they did and i know it is very hard to avoid as i did to other minority.