May 30, 2012

The fightin’ side of me

Dear dumb-ass redneck cracker,

Even in light-to-moderate traffic, it’s difficult to drive from one end of Hurstbourne Parkway to the other without devolving into a screaming ape-man. Those several miles of inhumanity are enough to compel a right-thinking person to stop off at Half-Price Books, steal the collected works of Thoreau, drive till the gas runs out, and bivouac into whatever wilderness happens to be immediately available off the interstate to set up house in a pup tent by a cow pond.

That’s what I was feeling when my truck pulled up behind your truck at the stop light; the press of humanity united only in automotive alienation and the persistent unavailability of anything decent on the radio. So, already debilitated as I was by the morose state of humanity in late capitalism, your bumper sticker fairly sent me into paroxysms of grief peppered with rage.

There was old Uncle Sam — in his ridiculous, freaky, star-spangled zoot suit — un-ironically pointing his finger in my face to tell me I needed to:

“SPEAK ENGLISH OR GET THE HELL OUT!”

I tried to rally into pole-position and have a little word with you. If I could have caught your attention, and if I could’ve kept my temper for a moment, I was going to say something like, “Hey, Fella. Man, that bumper sticker. Whew. You’re wearin’ your stupidity right there on your sleeve, ain’tcha? So, what are you getting at? What are your thoughts about the institutional and cultural difficulties of second language acquisition among the immigrant populations in our community? Got any pointers on how we can reach out to new folks? You know, the ones who came here to prospect for a little piece of the much-trumpeted opportunity that’s sometimes absent in the fealty states that support American exceptionalism and convenience? What about the old-fashioned ones who just came over to avoid things like religious and political persecution and, you know, murder?”

Your bumper sticker was dumb for sure, but thoughtful scrutiny’s not your bag. I get that. You like to get straight to the point. What bothers me, redneck cracker, is my suspicion that you’ve not really thought this through. Don’t get me wrong. Limbaugh-fed, propagandist sound-bite, intolerant bullshit aside, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of something important. Linguistic disparities, especially in our public schools, are a real-honest-to-God- problem. Do you slow down a class to meet the needs of a few kids whose English is wanting? Do you leave them in the dust? Should we — per your suggestion — send them “home”?

Language is the most crucially important signifier of membership in a community. We’re hard-wired to make distinctions between “like” and “other,” and language is the first metric used to make this distinction. Unfortunately, xenophobia usually trumps compassion. With all of the unconscious emotional weight we assign to language, it’s not surprising that the “sanctity of our native tongue” should become the battlement from which ideologues find it most convenient to lob hand grenades at the tired, the poor, the huddled masses we once invited to come and breathe free with us.

Bright folks all over this country spend their careers trying to crack the code of increased immigration, the attendant need for specialized language programs, and increased demands for expedient public policy with no budget. We’re in a tight spot with no easy fixes, and language battles are, in many ways, the front-line. You’ve come down on the wrong side of it, though, Bubba, and I wished I could have told you when I had the chance, or just had a good ol’ American John Wayne fistfight.

I get the feeling that linguistic consistency isn’t what’s bothering you. If you walked into one of the English Conversation Clubs held weekly at several branches of the Louisville Free Public Library and saw a room full of recent arrivals to our city speaking/learning/communicating with volunteers who showed up to help actual humans succeed in our language, I have a feeling the first words out of your mouth wouldn’t be, “Now this here … This is what the fuck I’m talkin’ about.”

I get the feeling that the “GET THE HELL OUT!” portion of the message supercedes the other half. In the end, dumb redneck cracker, I can’t stand your bumper sticker because it’s dishonest. It uses the English language, my language, not to communicate, but as a place to hide.

Learn to use your words please.

Yours Truly,

Concerned in Traffic 

Tagged: Raised Relief |