Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Night of the living stereotype

An occasional bummer about being a minority – especially black, but also Jewish, gay, Mexican, even Italian – is when you’re embarrassed by your own kind.

Just when you’re feeling all good about life, somebody steps up to publicly fulfill the worst stereotypes of your little community of identity. And part of you wants to hang your head.

I once spoke to a college class about TV writing. Wouldn’t you know, the one black chick in the class asked the dumbest question? Something about formatting or line spacing or something, when I was there talking about art and business. A white student spoke up to tell the girl she could find her answer in any beginner’s book on the mechanics of screenwriting. Part of me wanted to hang my head.

Couldn’t the sister have asked even a mediocre question… something that could slide by barely noticed? Why’d she have to say something to invite a public smackdown?

I must admit, though, when people of a different ethnic group fulfill one of their stereotypes, that can be funny as hell! When the Hank Greenberg documentary came out in 1998, I went to the Nuart in West L.A. to see it. On the opening Friday. I felt like the only gentile in a one-block radius.

So I’m standing in the concession line, right? The guy in front of me asks the counter man how much for a bottled water. He is told $2.50.

The guy says: “Can I get two for $4.00?”

Now that was hilarious to me. My man was trying to “Jew him down” on the price of a bottled water. At a movie about Jewish heroism.

Anyway… I flew into a major Midwestern city Sunday on the red-eye. (I won’t say which airline.) There was one black flight attendant in this crew. And she got on the microphone for the pre-flight safety announcements.

I could hardly understand what homegirl was saying. Not just because of the traces of ghetto diction, but because of her nasally tone, a frog-throated rasp which might’ve been due to a cold, plus the fact she was low-talking. All of this drew me forward in my seat to make out her words.

“Pull on the cord to release the flow of oxgen…”

Oxgen? What the hell is oxgen?

“Put the mask over your mouth and breathe normally. Oxgen is flowing even though the bag will not inflate…”

Ox-y-gen, got-dammit! It’s a three-syllable word!

Yeah, I got angry. What’s this woman doing anywhere near a microphone? What if there’s an emergency and she has to tell us something important?

Thankfully that didn’t happen. But she must’ve been the queen bee of the flight crew because she was serving first class.

I’m not the type who’s so Hollywood that he won’t fly coach. I bought a coach ticket. But when I picked it up at the airport kiosk, I got the option of upgrading for $100. (Worth it to increase my odds of getting decent sleep on this four-hour flight.)

So I was in first class… and expecting first-class service.

Well, homegirl came by with the beverage cart, and she had that grim-looking face you sometimes see on bad service employees. Like it should be enough that she pours me a drink, I’m not entitled to a smile and a friendly word too. No, Miss Thing, your job is to make my flight experience a more pleasant one. Be pleasant, bitch!

But I got my Coke and my nuts and I was cool.

Couple hours later, I roused out of a half-sleep to see homegirl standing before me again. She said something that didn’t compute. She was low-talking again, but it sounded like: “Sumta jink?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

She repeated: “Sumta jink?”

In my groggy disorientation, I wasn’t processing information very quickly. Like the fact that she had the beverage cart with her. I just leaned forward, thrust my left ear at her, and hoped the third time would be the charm.

She said: “Something to drink?”

“Oh. No, thank you.”

The fuck am I flying on? Mad TV Airlines?

Then, as we were about to land, homegirl got on the mic again, telling us to get our trash ready because someone would be coming down the “ai” to collect it. Not the aisle, the ai.

I noticed, in the row in front of me, two young blonde female heads whispering comments to each other. One of them shook her head. I could sense they were talking about homegirl… America’s most inarticulate stewardess.

It was probably hilarious to them.


justjudith said...

i know what u are talking about. where i live, almost all of those types work at walgreen's or occasional weekends as grocery store tellers. you can't hear them, they aren't friendly (and one of the stores' mottoes is the friendliest in town!) and they have a sour face through the whole transaction. i'm thinking YOU chose this job, don't get mad at me -- hell, go to college! or my favorite is when the surly Black worker has to talk to a co-worker or into a cell phone the whole time. excellent.

odocoileus said...

You got no love for ya people!

These days, the airlines don't pay enough to attract top flight people. Usually, the FA in first class is low seniority, b/c the service there requires more work.

You get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

Your shit about home girl was a piece of shit. What about when White people who speak badly. You sound as though you are a master of the English language but I doubt it. I bet your butt speaks more ghetto than home girl. Plus if there was an emergency your ass would have followed her instructions to the letter, bad grammer and all.

Undercover Black Man said...

justjudith: Thanks for commenting. I think every black person in America has had that feeling. All I want is good service... even in a McDonald's.

odo: Really? They put the junior flight attendants in first class? That sounds so counter-intuitive. My previous experience flying first class has been: those people are on it. They treat you right.

black hezbollah: Thanks for commenting. As a matter of fact, I am a master of the English language. I'm a fucking Coltrane of the English language.

Don't be mad at me. I'll never apologize for demanding excellence when excellence is due.

Plus, if I was a genuine stuck-up bourgie asshole, I would've said something truly nasty about homegirl. Like: "Welfare-to-work is a beautiful thing, ain't it?"

Susie said...

Coltrane of the English language? I'd never thought about it like that but it's right on.

My boyfriend, an Israeli Jew never stops with the bargaining. Shopping is not fun unless he's getting a deal.

My people? We pay retail.

When he asks for a price and then balks I figure we're leaving, but no, this is just the beginning of the negotiations. All I can do is find a place to sit and wait until the deal is done. Two weeks ago? He got Best Buy to knock $300 off a washer and dryer.

Oddly, this does not enhance the shopping experience for me. It only makes me break out in a flop sweat of mortification. Talk about uncomfortable.

Dr Skylaser said...

Oh yeah--I've noticed the same thing with native accents & second languages: you think other people's accent in your native language are cool, but your native language's accent in your second language? Utterly mortifying.

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

You know what the worst stereotype is? People associating your religion with terrorism. Though I am a non-practicing Muslim, I still sometimes tell people I am a Muslim if they ask me my religion. Most people don't care, but I find the expressions of some people to be hilarious.

Which brings up the point, what's the white stereotype? Playing golf?

Undercover Black Man said...

SJ: I'll tell you the white stereotype... clapping off the beat. I've seen that too. Freakin' hilarious!

af said...

i just found this blog tonight and let me say, it's very informative, and entertaining. haha int his particular post you sound like my brother haha lol

and might i add i AM a master of the english language

Anonymous said...

UBM - you're not going to point out to BH that it's grammar, rather than grammer?

Anonymous said...

Hell, how many times have I been embarrassed when "one of my own" starts showing their color in the company of whites? But I can't really judge them because I did a whole bunch of stuff that not only embarrassed me but discredited my race. Showing up late, being inarticulate, missing deadlines, blowing off work, I did that and more.

Fuck, the way I acted when I was a young'un, I should be in jail right now if I kept that shit up. Still anytime I get spooked by black people acting ignorant or proving how affirmative action doesn't work, I remind myself who's president and who headed FEMA.

Anonymous said...

[I]SJ: I'll tell you the white stereotype... clapping off the beat. I've seen that too. Freakin' hilarious! [/I]

Don't forget the high-fivin' white guy! And the white guy who can't dance to the beat (Eddie Murphy did that joke in "Delirious").

I'm half-Mexican, half-Italian (and 100% American, dammit), so I get to be embarrassed twice as much when "my people" do stupid crap in public. It was really fun during the immigration marches when people were assuming they were all Mexicans out there causing problems and I had to point out the Honduran flags, and the Salvadoran flags, and so forth. Talk about not all looking alike--ugh!

Susie, can I borrow your boyfriend? I need to buy a house and a new car ;-)

Pete Prochilo said...

This is pretty much how I feel watching every episode of 'The Sopranos.' They unfortunately nail the dinner table back-and-forth in that show, among other things. The truth doesn't hurt, per se, but it stings a little.

Undercover Black Man said...

Afro Jamaicano: Glad you found me, bruh. Stick around... I'm gonna write about "Dear Pastor" one of these days...

Anonymous: As for the misspelling of "grammer"... hey, it's Black History Month. Everybody gets one free pass.

Susie: Thanks for making me smile!

ItAintEazy: I don't know if I'm ready to shine that spotlight on myself. Actually, I'm prone to a different kind of embarrassment. Even though I grew up in the "inner city" -- in the '70s at that -- I could never give dap. One time (as an adult), I met a friend of a friend, I offered my hand, dude tried to dap me, and it was just a clumsy, humiliating mess. I could see in his face, he instantly formed a very low opinion of me. I could read his thoughts... You non-dappin' muthafucka you...

To this day, I can only deal with a straight handshake. Try to high-five me, I'm likely to swing-and-miss. Want to execute a simple fist-pound? Uhh... how does that work?

Anonymous said...

UBM, hat is "dap"?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that would be "what," not "hat." Sorry!

quirkychick said...

Dez - He's yours. I should rent him out because he really loves grinding out the deals.

As for white stereotypes let's not forget the white man's overbite which I caught myself doing the other day while hula-hooping to Fat Boy Slim.

Okay I just made myself laugh.

Undercover Black Man said...

Dez: "Dap" is the soul brothers' handshake... involving a series of maneuvers, like hooking the thumbs, then gripping and pulling in opposite directions, etc. It can vary in maneuvers and complexity depending on location, changing styles, whatever. Key thing is... it's sort of an in-group ritual. If you can't return the dap smoothly, you give yourself away as a lame, a square, one who is not "down."

Anonymous said...

LOOL! I know what you mean. Growing up in whitey McWhitebread North Dakota and Minnesota, I wouldn't know shit about dapping even if any of y'all took the time to show me. I learned to adapt, though, whenever i first meet a brotha, I go for the simple yet effective finger pull snap-back (or whatever it is it's called); simple because you don't need to recognize any complicated procedures, effective because as far as I know whites haven't caught on to it :^)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation, UBM! I've seen dapping before, but obviously, I didn't know what it was called.

Susie, send him over! We'll haggle on the rent later ;-)