The Self-Loathing Gentrifier: Fall 2011

Illustration Alisha Amirkhanian

Dear Self-Loathing Gentrifier,
I recently got into trouble for lumping Puerto Ricans and Dominicans together. I felt bad at the time, but then, later, I wish I’d retorted something along the lines of “Can you tell if I’m Scottish, Irish, or English? Which island DO I COME FROM?” Don’t you think that would’ve been good?
–Island Native in Bushwick

Oh, that would have been fantastic. You really would have zinged them back. Wow. It’s hard to imagine how they would have recovered from the way that you countered their accusation of racial essentialism with one of your own. If there were such a thing as sarcastic ink, I would have printed the first four sentences of this response using it, purely. Now comes the sincere ink. The fact is, Island Native, that I have very little idea what you’re talking about, which makes it difficult for me to either praise you or scorn you. You say that you recently got into trouble for lumping together, but “lumping together” lumps together many different sins, ranging from minor (“Oh, I flew over Hispaniola once. Wait, I mean Puerto Rico”) to major (“Dominicans and Puerto Ricans conform to the same stereotypes, which gives me license to now insult them simultaneously”). Along with eliding the what, you leave out the when and the who. Did your wife chide you afterwards? Was that the extent of your trouble? Did an elderly Puerto Rican gentleman fall to his knees, weeping, as a result of your lack of respect? Did your Irish friend call you later that night and say, “Pendejo, what gives?” The fact is that a) You should know the difference between Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. They’re different. And also b) There’s no upside to wishing that you had retorted at the time. Didn’t you learn anything from Seinfeld? The jerk store called. They’re out of you.

Dear Self-Loathing Gentrifier,
I really want my kids to be a part of the neighborhood, and play with all the other local kids, but I’m a little concerned about the constant, intense profanity coming out of the mouths of children as young as four. Any ideas?
–School Marm in Gowanus

This is a tougher question. I feel it deserves some consideration. Kids can be foul-mouthed. That goes without saying. You don’t want your kids to be that way. Understandable. But is the answer to shield them? I went and read four dozen parenting books, and all of them speak at length about the concept of “zones,” meaning that it’s your job to teach your children that certain behaviors are acceptable on the playground but unacceptable at home, or acceptable around peers but unacceptable around adults. You may also want to stress that certain profanities are never acceptable; we can send you a short list if you’d like. But in general, I didn’t find any studies that said that kids learning profanity early has a negative effect on their development, intelligence, or ability to empathize. It just makes them capable of crudeness. Of course, some kids will never give in, no matter how many times people are shouting “fuckshit” next to them. Maybe you have one of those kids. Playing with others seems like a higher priority regardless, though I should point out that this is not a parenting column, and I did not appreciate having to read four dozen books to solve someone else’s fuckshitting problem.

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