Double Entendre, or Something Similar: Unpacking the Notion of “Holier Than Thou!”
What do you think of Cornel West’s book title: Race Matters?
How about Michael Eric Dyson’s book title: Race Rules
Language is so intriguing. When Cornel West named his book “Race Matters” was he stating that his book was about matters of race, or that race is important? When Michael Eric Dyson named his book “Race Rules” was he stating that his book was about the rules of race, or that race dominates? Seriously, which type of person are you? How did you interpret these two titles? What might your seeing only one of the possible two meanings that I see in these titles indicate about how different we may be seeing the world?
Does the phrase “holier than thou” mean I am more holy than you and therefore can afford to be judgmental of you? Or does holier than though mean I have even more holes in my clothes than you, so I should be less judgmental? These questions I ask may seem a bit ridiculous because most of us would point immediately to the obvious answer in each case, right? Yeah, right! Isn’t that what makes the world go round? We get all of these different interpretations of things that we think are “so obvious,” until we realize that perhaps they really aren’t that obvious after all. When you consider how often we adopt a condescending posture towards people who do certain things that we think they shouldn’t, only to discover that we ourselves exhibited the very same or similar behavior, we never stop to think that it may be predicated on where we start from. If I start a conversation with you about West’s book “Race Matters” that takes you down a road of how it emphasizes “the importance of race” and you have a conversation with someone who believes West’s book emphasizes racial matters (occurrences), it is conceivable that you and that person I spoke with may not be anywhere near on the same page when the two of you attempt to discuss the essence of West’s book. Everything either one of you could potentially describe about the book could be flavored by your very different initial interpretations, and what you process from someone else’s take could also be seen through a filtered lens you developed from your knowledge.
Is it possible that the double entendre of language possibly influences some of our actions? I recall the scene from American Beauty when the military father tells his son how disgusting it is that gays flaunt their relationships (in response to a gay couple who recently moved into the neighborhood and subsequently attempted to introduce themselves to their neighbors). Later the military father witnesses what he thinks is homosexuality in his son and tells his son he would rather see him dead than gay. It turns out that the military father may have oppressed his homosexuality his entire life (hence his wife’s unrelenting vacant stare). Ultimately the military father kills his neighbor after he makes a pass at that neighbor and the neighbor reveals that he isn’t gay. Apparently the military father couldn’t live with the fact that he had outed himself to someone (his neighbor) who might tell others, or was just furious that he had been rejected. The larger point is many people cast aspersions at others for acts they have judged improper or immoral, and don’t take the time to discretely look at themselves. More so, when people hate, prejudge, demonstrate an ism, level of intolerance, inconsideration, or insensitivity, how many of us take the time to avoid reacting to the injustice before we give the seeming perpetrator the benefit of the doubt for simply having succumbed to being human? I know it sounds easy and is a great deal harder to do at times, but don't you think it can be done?
Many of us have extended congratulatory or celebratory pregnancy comments to the woman in the hallway or elevator only to find out she wasn’t pregnant. Though definitely not trying to make her feel uncomfortable about her weight, in the case where the woman doesn’t know the complimenter, how insincere might those comments sound to her? Is she wrong if she sees the so-called perpetrator as mean or evil? Have you ever done this, or something similar?
Many of us have asked a friend of ours when we were younger if they were going to attend this or that function or event, not even thinking that our friend (or when we were younger, their parents) may not have the financial resources to attend (no money, or perhaps no car). I work with students who range from being able to travel anywhere in the world (just by asking their parents for money) to students who have to save to get back to New York City when school ends in Plattsburgh. The range in their various realities and the accompanying assumptions that visit both disparate groups are as broad as they are daunting. Nevertheless, have you ever prematurely or immaturely assumed something about someone that you are ashamed of?
Many if not most people have forwarded on a joke laden email or passed on a rumor to a very close friend, lover, partner, or colleague that had something improper in it. We forwarded the correspondence or advanced the gossip because it definitely didn’t reflect on us and it didn’t necessarily reflect on anyone we actually knew, or anyone we “really knew” or consciously focused on. Most of us have done this at some point in our lives and should be thankful that we didn’t or haven’t yet really embarrassed ourselves by this type of behavior. While people need to understand the impact such behavior has on both the individuals negatively represented as well as their communities, few of us consider the motivation behind much of our behavior. Nevertheless, have you done the gossiping, forwarded the email, or anything similar?
Many of us have told a lie that we would like to get back the moment we said it. It probably came out of our mouths due to some unknown insecurity we have not addressed until we recognize how truly unconvincing the lie actually is if put to any type of scrutiny. Nonetheless, we told that lie. Yet, we are appalled when we hear that someone we held in high regard may have spoken an untruth! Have you ever done this, or something similar?
I challenge people all the time that their use of the words “straight,” “weird,” phrases like “that’s retarded,” or “that’s gay,” or attempts at convincing oneself that referring to a grown woman as “girl” are extremely problematic and are more often than not used by those of us that have no connection to the stereotypical members of these stereotypical communities often misrepresented through the use of these dysfunctional terms and phrases, or are truly ignorant of the role they play in exacerbating social injustices. So why do we continue to do all of these things? Is it because somehow we are “holier than thou,” whatever that means to you?