The Fetishism of Civility
I go to a job interview and I wear baggy jeans, my hat backwards, do not shave my beard, and greet the interviewer with a dap and a “sup” rather than a traditional handshake and “hello”… I do all of this while Latino. (Scary…. seriously, racist people find this “scary”)
Do I get the job?
We all know the answer… clearly I do not. It does not matter what job I am applying for, it does not matter that I am over qualified for the job… all that matters is the next guy in the door is wearing a suit, has a firm handshake, speaks standard american English vernacular, and is doing all this while being white.
Guaranteed, that this guy will get the job, and I will not.
You go to any employment agency and they will tell you the same – maybe leave out the “you should do this while white” part…. but nonetheless, this is the reality we live in. You know, for all our ethnocentrism and all our haughty look at traditions different from american culture… we sure like to do a lot of senseless peacocking ourselves. We parade around as if we are above other cultural traditions, but really we just preference our own senseless traditions over theirs.
So, what is the point in the anecdote? Well we can see from the different descriptions, that we are going to attach positive and negative value judgments to these individuals above. With the first we are going to judge him as, crude, unprofessional, impolite, uncivil, and maybe just a fcking dirty ignorant
spic. With the other, we are going to see him as well mannered, well spoken, polite, professional, and probably smart – heck you probably think the white dude in that picture is a mighty good speller! While we can justifiably say that one was polite and the other was not, and one was well spoken and the other was not, and one was professional and the other was not, and we can say one was civil while the other was not…..
What we often do in addition, something that needs to be objected to, is attach other claims to these points of view that rationally can not be justified. You see, we are going to look at the second guy as smart, and probably able to do his job well…. but nothing about being polite and well dressed and speaking right indicates intelligence or the willingness to work hard… nothing indicates you have the ability to perform well at your job (even if your job revolves around a specific set of communication skills.) To the other fellow we think him unintelligent, we think he is lacking a formal education, or lacking the job skills. We fail to notice that nothing about say… being able to do complex mathematical problems correlates with saying hello and giving a firm handshake.. that is ridiculous. Lots of relevant job skills are not evaluated and can not be evaluated at such a superficial level. Further, if that person is someone who is a person of color.. then their behavior does not only reflect bad on them, but also, for some reason (racism), starts to reflect on their entire race, and ethnic slurs will come out if you go against what is considered “civil” enough… bet yous ass on that mther fcker…. Just check on how the NYPD treats stop and frisk POC’s if you do not believe me.
Now, before we unpack why we attach all these irrational positive attributes to mere peacockery.. we first have to explore what these words mean. What does being polite or rude; civil or uncivil; well spoken vs not well spoken; well dressed vs not well dressed mean? How are these things viewed by us and why can they almost unconsciously, and irrationally, lead to other unrelated value judgements?
Let’s dig into this topic….
First, we want to look at social norms. What are they? Social norms are just things this or that culture does because that is simply what everyone does. Why does everyone do it? Chances are that, this action, or that saying, or this way of being, was popularized in the past, in some shape or form, and it just stuck with people. Somewhere along the line, it then simply became normal to do it and abnormal to refuse to. We can pretty easily see why social norms are different for different cultures. Different cultures have different histories, thus leading to different social norms. Anyone who is well traveled knows that what is polite in one place may not be polite in another.
Second thing we want to look at, is behaviors like social defiance, where some group of people either decide to not obey some social norm or cannot obey some social norm. These people end up being classified as deviant, because their behaviors fall outside that specific cultural normal behavior. Normal behavior is going to get classified as whatever social dominant behavior is the trend at the time – such that there are social pressures on everyone to display similar forms of the dominant behavior. Depending on the importance of the behavior, you are going to either get more or less social pressure to conform. Social deviants are not going to be classified as having access to any sort of moral truth via their defiance, they are merely instead classified as people who do not follow the cultural dominant behavioral trend at the time. So like, if I give dap on job interviews, I am being a social deviant. Those who give a firm handshake, or attempt to, are obeying social norms.
The last thing we want to look at is conformity. Conformity is people attempting to be accepted into the culture by obeying cultural behavioral norms. Conformity is a natural human inclination. We all want to be accepted by other groups and we all conform to various behaviors in order to be accepted. This is in part what makes us social animals. Conformity is actually the primary mechanism to get people to act in moral ways. Conformity is something that we all do, and it can be used to promote justice or injustice. The behavior of conformity is morally neutral, for the most part, the outcome, however, can slip and slide any direction.
Those who refuse to conform to social norms are going to face social pressure. Notice how the moral nature or truth status of the behavior in question does not enter our analysis.. these things happen independent of rational truth status and moral status. No matter what you do, if you exhibit defiant behavior that contradicts the local cultural norms…. you are going to face various forms of social pressures that influence you to just go with the cultural flow. If you ride against that flow, that pressure can get kicked up a notch, and you may face lots of abhorrent reactions from people. Many may distance themselves from you. Therefore, defiant stances have the effect of producing socially isolated individuals or groups. The risk of defying any cultural norm is social isolation and negative social pressures. Again, I point out, this happens regardless of the reasons people take to defy cultural traditions.
This is simply how society works, and we have to accept that. You can take any cultural norm, no matter how small or how big… and you will get results that resemble the analysis above. With that fundamental analysis we can begin to dig into what we consider to be “polite.” “civil,” “well dressed,” and “well spoken.”
The first thing we notice is that these words quickly switch meaning.. in that they are no longer assumed to be universal or objective. Instead, we look at them through whatever cultural lens we are looking through at the time. We notice that notions like, “what is civil behavior and polite behavior” vary from culture to culture, and as such are relative terms. To be civil only means something when it is referenced to a specific cultural norm, without that, the we are left in the dark to what is “civil” behavior and what is not.
Now, let us do an implicit association test on ourselves. These things are good because it allows us to analyze our biases on different cultural issues. If I say the word “civility” what images or words or experiences pop in your head?
I do not know about you gents…… But I sht you not, mofos.. that fcking hommie came into my head almost immediatly! Lulz… Now, what does this tell me about the cultural influences acting on the idea of civility?
Well when I think of “civility” I think of males, whites, suites and ties, rich people, nobility, speaking correct English in a sort of professorial and academic manner, I think of being “well read” and educated, calm and almost emotionally distant,…. etc.. and I am betting that most of us will not steer far from such ideas and imagery. I am betting that people do not think of poverty stricken individuals, dredd locks, braids, afros, uneducated people… when I say the word civil. I am betting these images are not the first thing you associate with civility…
Why is that? You have to wonder…. why this individual, below, looked as as “civil” while the ones above are not immediately associated with the term?
This one, above, was responsible for the “war on drugs” – which is the most racist set of laws that are in effect right now. He was also responsible for supporting the death squads in El Salvador…. and he is still recognized as “civil.” Well what about this guy below?
Why is he, Bob Marley, not immediately thought of when thinking about “civility”?” I guarantee you that this man, is more of a decent human being than Reagan… but his image is not what comes to mind when looking for “civil.” Why is it we correlate “morally decent” with “civility”….if… in reality, no such correlation exists? Why is it that civility is typically associated with Western nations, and European nations.. and not associates with African Nations?
You see, the thing about the word “civil” … is that it is a racially charged term. It has been used my imperialistic nations for hundreds of years to grant them “justifications” for dominance over other less militarized nations. You know, if you look at your history…. you are going to come across the Imperialistic Western nations spreading across the globe and colonizing the black and brown folk by force. While they colonized them, they built a racist ideology in order to rationalize their invasions, and mistreatment of other peoples.
They called the middle east barbarians. They called the native Americans savages They called the African nations… “uncivilized” All the while, they would show their “clear dominance,” and as such they would, be practically forced to take their “civilization” and teach these “uneducated and ignorant” people some “manners.” You see… you take their land, you kill and rape their people, you enslave their economy… all the while bringing them your “wisdom and civilization.”
That is the cultural history of those words, and these histories are still tied to them today. You can no more divorce those words from that racist history than you can divorce the history behind the racial slur hurled at black people today. Invoking those words… means bringing up a lot of bigoted imperialistic ideology. Where we get to dehumanize what we call the “savage” or the “barbarian” while uplifting the “civilized nobles” (who conveniently act throughout history in the most murderous ways).
Teaching people like me to talk “civilized” and “well mannered” is built on the assumption that there is one privileged, and thus correct, way to communicate. Where the perfect way to act… the best way of communication…. just happens to stem from western civilizations… what a fcking coincidence. What a fcking coincidence, the ways of communication that are not found in the origins of Imperialistic nations…. are not associated with civility, and are not looked upon so nobly… wonder why the fck that is?
You catch my drift here?
In fact… why is it that…. the objections of “be civil” and “stop being rude”… are ones that , personally, I only ever hear when I get angry about oppression and bigotry? Why is it that this almost always comes from folks who have privilege… where they are like.. “can’t you phrase it nicer?”…. As if the tone of the message matters more to them then the core idea of the message.
In fact, it is sooo odd how these objections only pop up when “allies” want to talk strategy.. instead of just, understanding that angrily expressing yourself towards injustice means that the injustice matters more than the language? It really is funny you know, when someone tells me I can “talk so well”.. when I chose to.. never understanding that I am merely mimicking the approved method of communication. Not understanding the concept that there are many many ways to get a message across.
This is the kind of cultural ignorance that stinks and sticks to the very ideology of those that propagate “civilized conversations” and “hearty debate”…. Oh how nice it is to “debate” intellectual things like whether or not we are treating minorities like human fcking beings. How great it is to speak so calmly, apathetically, towards issues that work to marginalize a great section of humanity.
Where have I heard this before?.. oh yeah, when the imperial bastard decided carve up the middle east and Africa… am I sure there were quite civilized while they did talked about it too.
I am pretty sure the order to bomb Hiroshima was “civilized” too…. no matter if the calamity was a great moral wrong. No matter if it was actually a war crime… as long as the memo did not curse!
I like how Americans think their governments treatment of Cuba (that frequently involves terrorism, assassination attempts, invasions, embargoes that block out medicine to help the poor, and economic strategies that ensures the populace stay below poverty level) is “civil.” While the Cuban revolution that tried to free the poor people of Cuba is “uncivil.” I am sure Che Guevara’s famous speach against american imperialism at the UN – demanding Americans recognize them as a sovereign nation… just sounded “savage.” Meanwhile, american officials in the UN “politely” discuss ways to punish the impoverished Cuban populace. Oh.. oh… how I would so fcking love to be mther fcking civil… oh how I want to recognize myself as a civil, well mannered, polite, individual….
Excuse me while I fcking barf.
You see… in this culture, the terms civil, well mannered, well spoken always reflect the upper class, and reflect a strong cultural tradition in western imperialism and conquest. We are taught to associate these ideas with some kind of moral good… but the reality is that they are more or less associated with a privileged class of individuals in the word – and this privileged class of people have a history of violence, genocide, slavery, and theft. Where by comparison, the poor people, often fighting back against oppression, are always viewed as requiring to be taught to communicate in the way the special class does. As if, everyone communicating in some “academic” fashion would solve conflicts… how laughable.
The real deal is, the down low on these terms is… that they reflect an unfair social dynamic. The ones who demand that all people in all areas perform these sets of rules that regards certain behaviors as “uncouth,” and suggest most make an effort to be more “civil”… are just propagating this unfair dynamic. They are carrying the historical racially charged baggage with their advice, and fail to realize that these rules routinely work in ways to take out marginalized voices.
You see when a minority can not express his views in this privileged form of communication…. he will not be taken seriously. If he chooses his own method of communication that differs from the elite perception.. then his words will fall on death ears.
Fact is, that we have to put on that face. Fact is, is that if I could not at least learn to mimic an academic by code-switching… than no one will be inclined to listen to me either.
You see.. if I talked like how I talk at fcking home… if I spit dat sht dah way I want to fcking let it loose… ain’t no fcker around is ganna take my ideas serial. Dey ganna look at me like I am a fcking maniac… like I ain’t with their fcking time. Even though, my ideas, my intellect, my reasoning skills are still fcking strong… it won’t god damn mattah. All dat sht can be rock fcking solid, all my ideas can be logically valid and sound… and still, ain’t no hommie ganna pay attention. Just because I threw up a little slang.
So instead, I have to code switch, and talk like a “gentlemen.” I must behave that way, even though, it was gentlemen that massacred the native Americans, and gentlemen that raped the black slaves… even though the very idea of being a gentleman makes my skin crawl. It is a necessary compromise that I must meet in order to simply be heard. No amount of kicking and screaming.. will be heard by the “civilized” world that so frequently rapes entire nations, if I can not at least mimic the way these nobles communicate with one another.
That is what makes me sick… and the ones who fetishisize a certain way of communication – a method that is really only taught to a privileged class of individuals who had the benefit of a formal western education – not knowing they bring racially charged baggage with that preference…. have a special place in my heart. I have to demonstrate to these fools something… That sometimes, I make a choice, and I refuse to be a part of one method of communication that I am not really fond of to begin with. Sometimes, I simply do not want to be civil… I want to express myself in the fashion that suites me best, and still be heard.
So those of you who ask for civil discussions and polite dialogue around issues of oppression…. Those of you who prioritize that fashion of communication above talking about actual issues….. probably have no idea what you are even asking for. Do us all a favor and stop with these rules… instead engage a minority regardless of the form they chose to communicate with you when they chose to talk about their plights. You should not have to be “polite” to deserve to be treated as an equal… and heard, Unfortunately this is frequently not the case. Too many demand conformity to a certain racially charged way of communicating… before considering treating the other as an equal. And that…
That sht is just fckin foul. Instead, just step off, and take that sht outta here.