Monday, July 16, 2007

The Mis-Education of Maggie

I so wanted to like her, and I may be warming to her as I reflect on her short stories, but the casual use of the N word stupefies me. Of course, it isn’t her fault, she is merely reflecting the times as they were; therefore, I should be mad at those times, but it is O’Connor in my hands and in my head.

Was it Flannery O’Connor’s grandmother in A Good Man is Hard to Find or Sweetheart who said, “Oh look at the cute little pickaninny.” O’Connor may have written the words in the early 50s, but I heard them in the 70s from my own grandmother. Sweetheart had a habit of using the N word which was never watered down such as negro or colored. I loved her but had trouble figuring out why the obvious character flaw in her otherwise pleasant self.

All my grandparents were openly racist, yet my mother and father rejected their beliefs by buying music by Fats Domino. Sounds silly, but this was a major deal. White people were supposed to buy white music and black people were supposed to buy black music. Or, at least that is how the world turned in the South.

I approached the situation a little differently, I merely listened. Ns are dumb. Ns are lazy. Ns are dirty. As I became older, each one of the statements was debunked by my friend, Kenneth Moore. Our dads played tennis together, so we learned early, get lost. (Can you say ball girl?) Kenneth and I were the same age and went to the same schools. He always made better grades than me, was early to all classes, and looked like a model from the Sears catalog. I may have been white, but I was the N my grandparents warned me about, not him.

In O’Connor’s time, N occurred in everyday conversation. In present times it is a dirty word. Sweetheart, if you are reading this, I love you! But, say that word again and I’m gettin’ the soap.

Note: Fats Domino's mixed media portrait by Tami Ellis.


Kelly said...

My grandparents and father grew up in Detroit and were staunch supporters of the civil rights movement, while my mothers family lives in a rural community and were openly racist.

Anonymous said...

I heard the "N word" a lot as a boy in the South Carolina "up contry" and Whites used it as did Blacks. I have been called a honkie, an ofay and a cracker as well. Oh yes, throw in hillbilly and redneck. I know what I am. Some of the worst racists whom I have ever met are Northerners. Racists are in every culture and race on the planet. Here's the skinny -genetically (by DNA testing) I am a Eurasian who is viewed as White. :)

Anonymous said...

Typo - that's "up country."

Tiffany Norris said...

Thank you for the reflections.
My grandmother still says "colored," but in her mind, that's being polite.
Good stuff to think about today!

Anonymous said...

Just started reading your blog and appreciate it SO much. We live in the upstate of SC but I was born/raised in GA. Flan O does capture the heartbreak of hating others because they are differant. Our book group read Revelation by Flan O last year. It challenged each of us.

jenclair said...

My parents never allowed that term, but as I was growing up it was frequently and casually used.

I find the use of it in writing always makes me uncomfortable as well, but please don't judge O'Connor by this word. When I started reading her fiction, all of it caused me stress, even when I could see where she was going...and it is MUCH more than that one word that I find stressful. It was a strange reading relationship that I developed with O'Connor, a dichotomy of appreciation and great tension.

But Maggie, when I started reading her letters (and I'm still reading them), I absolutely fell in love with the woman behind the stories. Her quiet courage, her sense of humor, her sense of place, her affection for her mother, her friendships...all come through loud and clear in the most fascinating way.

maggie moran said...

MyUtopia, thanks for sharing. I'm glad the fruit falls way away from the tree.

Paul, I've been called country and b'tch to my face, but in both cases I stood a little taller. :) Thanks for sharing...

Tiffany, the evolution of words is fascinating I'll be glad when these become extinct.

Anon, I think I need to give her another try with a book group. These stories cry out for discussion.

JenClair, thanks for the encouraging words. I enjoyed her last story "The Displaced Person" very much. I hated "A Good Man is Hard to Find" on the first reading, but I went back and reread it for character details and thought it wasn't half bad. I do think I'm warming to her.

It would be great to read the letters for the details of the stories are bound to unfold. Thanks for the suggestion. :)

Anonymous said...

Bottom line is that racists are in every culture and racial group and some of them may be relatives whom we love.I have never assumed the guilt of my racist relatives. Some people do. :)

Lana said...

I have never heard that word used in conversation. Interesting, I don't know what I would do if I did.

Luckily we can get better.

Diane said...

Maggie - I found the racism in O'Connor's work to be disturbing too. Obviously, books written during a certain time frame are going to include language that is now considered completely unacceptable. However, I would not consider all of such books racist; many express disdain for the ignorance of racists, or portray Black Americans in a positive light. The Ballad of the Flam Man comes to mind. Unfortunately, O'Connor's Wise Blood does not.

maggie moran said...

Amen, Paul, except for the guilt. It's in my nature, I guess, to be guilty. I'm also embarassed for their ignorance, and unsure why they feel the need to be better than someone else. Hum, I sound like a Socialist.

TXMommy, you are blessed with a higher quality of people. I usually just walk away-end of conversation. ;D

One time when the hubby and I were at a home show, we stopped to check out the ceiling fans. Not interested, we were just hot and they were located near the entrance. Well, we were cornered by mister salesman and he begins his spiel. Yada-yada-yada, and you don't want a Hunter fan. Really, why? Ns make'em in Memphis.

Right out of the blue like that! We left wondering how many fans he sold using this tactic.

Diane, thanks for reminding me of Daniel Wallace's Flim Flam Man. I ordered his brand new one today for the library. I'll see if I can get it to read. I think O'Connor has represented the era perfectly. I felt the hatred. I'm not sure if O'Connor is herself a racist, but she did write a convincing character.

QueenBee said...

I agree with those who say that racism knows no boundaries. It is present in every geographical area and in every race and culture. As a Black woman who has lived in the North, Midwest and South, I am amazed by its presence. I think her writing does reflect the times and for that she is forgiven, it's the use of it now by both Blacks and Whites that is pretty pathetic.

Thanks for being such a great coworker and friend and I'm looking forward to hearing about all you've read this summer!

maggie moran said...

Hey, Queen Bee! Thanks for buzzing by!

You are right, it's everywhere. The one thing I'm proud of as a Southerner is the fact that we talk about it and can tease each other about the stereotypes. Open conversation is the only way to change the World. People need to get over skin color and focus on more important issues. Ah, but you've heard my spiel before. :D