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bicultural people, and so many others who experience a life that combines
two or more aspects that others see as conflicting. That perplexity also shows
up when we make dichotomous good/bad judgments about differences. We
teach children that it’s not polite to notice difference. We teach them that
they shouldn’t notice that someone may be missing a leg or have a darker
skin color or speak a second language with an accent, and a variety of other
differences that must be bad if we’re not supposed to notice them. If it’s not
polite for a child to ask me why my skin is dark, then it must mean that I’ll
feel bad about being asked and that my darker skin must be a bad thing.
However, since it’s not polite to talk about my skin color, there is no way to
have a conversation about why someone would think my skin color is con-
sidered bad by some. There is some sort of unspoken agreement taking place
that seems to leave me at a disadvantage, and it would be rude or impolite
for me to talk about it too much.
I once worked with a child care center that was focusing on team build-
ing and getting to know more about one another. One of the teachers men-
tioned that being Canadian, she had a different perspective around one of
the topics we were discussing. A coworker turned to her and said, “I don’t
think of you as Canadian.” The teacher reaffirmed that she was, indeed,
Canadian and therefore had different perspectives. The coworker simply
reiterated that he considered the teacher “one of us.” This exchange was
interesting to watch (and navigate) because the Canadian teacher wanted
to ask about the difference between “us” and “them,” but her coworker was
now uncomfortable having to talk more about why it was good to be thought
of as “one of us” and not Canadian. The dance with conflict was avoided in
the interest of maintaining a civil workplace. The hegemony of niceness you
mention, Holly Elissa, is clearly something that needs more of our attention.
The worst of it is that those who are negatively affected by it also participate
in perpetuating it!
We need to talk more about the fear many grown-ups have of emotion,
especially anger. “Don’t be mad” is a common command, but what do I do
if I am mad? Am I supposed to feel good about something that makes me
mad? Wouldn’t that make my niceness fake? Is it better to be fake than to
be angry? That leads to what my grandmother calls being “nicety”—the fake
nice that is used to cover nasty. Besides, there are some things that should
make us angry and mad, should make us want to rock the boat on purpose.
Injustice, inequality, discrimination, prejudice, inequity, and oppression all
live in that boat. If we don’t rock it, we’ll never tip it over. If our silence is
required in order to maintain civility and niceness, we have to remember
that silence equals acceptance, agreement, and condoning of something we
claim isn’t right.
O U R WAY TO SIN CER ITY 11