Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Boston Blog Worth Reading

I stumbled upon a blog called Mental Masspurgation,, written by a fella named Mike Mennonno. I don't know if he is an original Bostonian, but he sure talks like one (in print anyway). He has an interesting voice, and he speaks frankly and unapologetically about urban life. In addition to his style, I like him because he eschews political correctness.

Check out his take on riding the Red Line:

Of Dawgs and Bitches

This afternoon I got on the red-line at Park Street (I think they should just go ahead and rename it Purgatory, don't you?), and just as the doors of my train are closing, a big bunch of rowdy kids, all around thirteen, I'd say, burst in and commandeer our car. They held the door for a couple minutes shouting to a buddy of theirs they'd no doubt ditched earlier, who was struggling to catch up:

He a DAWG! Lookit DAWG! Yo! DAWG! You gonna miss the train, DAWG! Come on DAWG! Come on! Yo DAWG! DAWGIN the DAWG! DAWG! DAWG! DAWG!

Crikey, I thought, somebody needs to invent a dawg-whistle for these kids--one that's silent to adults. It's times like these I almost wish I had an ipod.

Dawg made it on, thank goodness. With Nikka in tow, apparently. Since every other word was either "dawg" or "nikka." They jostled about, shoving commuters aside, laughing, horsing around and cracking wise at top volume. The displaced commuters moved down the car, wanly, without complaint. Defeated after a day in the salt mines.

Once we were underway, and they had calmed down a bit, the two of them closest to me started discussing "bitches." Every third word was now either "dawg," "nikka," or "bitch."

There was to be a gathering of some sort at The Dorchester House on Friday, and apparently there would be bitches-a-plenty.

What kind of bitches, exactly, one of them wanted to know.

"Bitches to flirt wit," said one.

"Bitches is bitches," said another.

The dialogue, not to mention the behavior--from the moment they exploded onto the train--was offensive on many levels, but we tolerate it because, first of all, young people, regardless of race or creed, but particularly in packs, scare us, and rightly so. The nerve bundle in the brain responsible for the consciousness of one's own mortality does not seem to develop until almost middle age.

But if the youth in question happen to be African-American, we hesitate to criticize for an additional reason: we figure we're that much more likely to get our lily-white asses kicked. Or, if we're proper Cantabrigians (it is the red line to Cambridge, after all), we sublimate those thoughts of violence, and consider our complicity in their behavior instead.

(What may be difficult for Cantabrigians is their complicated hierarchy of political sympathies--should they ignore the misogynistic implications of calling all females of the species "bitches" for the sake of showing a silent solidarity with the oppressed minorities doing so? It is a cunundrum I can assure you will immobilize any Cantabrigian for at least five stops, which, as luck would have it, gets them to Harvard Square, where they all get off.)

I had my nose buried in a book, preoccupied with an email exchange earlier in the day, which I'll talk about a little later. But at intervals, when the "nikkas" and "bitches" and "dawgs" forced their way into my consciousness, I would silently curse my cowardice, and then muse about what would happen if I decided to hold these boys to a higher standard (a minimum of civility, say), and intervene, like so: "um, excuse me, Mr. Dawg, you just shoved that woman there halfway down the car. Don't you think you should apologize for that?" or "Hey! Do you nikkas mind not using such offensive language? There are bitches present, you know! Word!"

I think most Bostonians want to avoid a "racial incident," and somehow we all know that that's what any intervention like this is likely to become. But what we end up doing is turning bad behavior into an entitlement we grant to youth of a certain class, regardless of race.

I was on the other end of the red line a couple of weeks ago and watched as halfway down the car three fat little white boys around the same age as the ones I saw today were mercilessly taunting a middle aged Asian woman with two big bags of groceries.

Bless her heart, she was playing along with them, even laughing at times, but you could see she was getting uncomfortable when it just kept going on and on. One boy in particular, the closer we got to his stop, the crueler he became.

When they got off at JFK with her, I could see she was afraid to leave the platform. I barked, "move along!" at them, and after insulting her one last time, they walked away.

I felt emboldened partly because they were white. I'll admit it. I don't know if I would have been so bold if they'd been black. Doubt it.

But I don't like the idea of letting kids off the hook like that, regardless of their race. And certainly not because of it. It's true that any pack of boys that age would likely be horsing around, using foul language, and making a general ruckus. It is rare for anyone to say or do anything but wait for them to get off the train, and pray that all they do is make a little noise. And that's probably the wisest approach.

You choose your battles, and a confrontation on the train, taking on years of pop-culture brainwashing celebrating and reinforcing all manner of atrocious anti-social behavior as the only way to get street cred and some measure of self-esteem, is not a battle you're likely to win. This whole freakin culture is a cry for help that no one's willing to answer. Don't call us--we'll call you!

So instead of interrupting these boys today I found myself wondering how it came to be that they were referring to themselves and the girls they might fancy as animals. The boys were all dogs and the girls were all bitches. Does it matter? Somehow I think language like that works to both reflect and reinforce a sad, unhealthy self-image, in both boys and girls. Not to mention the boys hiding themselves in their ludicrously oversized coats, shoes, and the jeans with the crotches at their knees, so that there's little trace of their actual physical form, hiding inside their massive garments all puffed-up in a perpetual stance of defense against a world perceived as permanently hostile. I wish someone with some credibility among them would intervene, for their sake, and ours.

It takes a healthy dose of unself-consciousness and wisdom to speak the truth, and in such fine fashion, too.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?