I was at a party the other night, imnotme’s older brother’s girlfriend’s 30th. BirthdayGirl throws many parties and is a fabulous host, and the party was a great time, as usual. There was one guest, however, that didn’t quite jive with the rest of us.
For a little background information, the crowd that typically gathers at BirthdayGirl’s trendy Uptown condo parties are mostly white, mid-to-late twenties and early thirties professionals, with careers in design, advertising, or copy writing. They’re generally fairly comfortable financially and most have bachelor’s degrees, some have continued further in the pursuit of higher education. In fact, if they weren’t all so friendly, welcoming and talkative, I’d feel terribly out of place with my broke-ass, in-and-out of college every couple years self. But alas, I manage not to.
Anyway, as you can imagine based on the nature of my blog and the people that you would assume that I would willingly spend time with, everyone in the group is pretty left-leaning and feminist-friendly. In contrast to this general ideal, though, imnotme’s younger brother brought a friend along with him to this recent bash. “Jake” is not from our neck of the woods (Minneapolis, MN) and hails from Minnetonka, a wealthy suburb of Minneapolis known for… well, rich, bigoted white people, and a fairly large lake.
Jake is known amongst people who meet him as a “nice guy.” Everyone agrees that he’s a bit boisterous, a little too in-your-face sometimes, but you certainly can’t speak ill of a guy who’ll bring over an eighth of kind bud and tell you to help yourself, as he goes into your kitchen and selects a beer to bring to you, beer that he brought over.
In his circles, he’s just a Nice Dude. In ours, we make sure we’re tentative when we agree. But it’s unanimous, right? Dude is just Nice.
The problem lies in the fact that, while he’s generous and overtly (to the point of seeming ingenuine) friendly to you and your friends, he defaults to the lowest common denominator when in a group of people; especially new people, as was the case when YoungerBro brought him to BirthdayGirl’s party.
Lowest common denominator conversations in parties where yuppie-ish, progressive white people are drinking beer and socializing with people they barely know tend to gravitate toward one of two things: sex or sexism. The sexism part, of course, is never hostile or necessarily malicious (or even conscious), but rather a grasp at a common thing that you can safely assume that everyone’s thought about. Differences between men and women, girlfriend/boyfriend problems, what makes guys dump girls and vice versa.
So back to the main point: Jake, he’s kind of a “big dude.” You can tell that the majority of his weight is made up of muscle mass, the deliberate, obsessive kind, where he makes it a point to be as muscular as possible just so he can be as “manly” as possible. Most people probably assume he was a football player in high school and college. He makes a remark to YoungerBro about how skinny he is. YoungerBro, never one to admit that he feels insecure or insulted, pauses briefly and haughtily agrees with him. Jake says, after realizing that his comment could have caused potential uneasiness, hurries to “Hey, it’s a good thing. It’s better than–” (he lowers his voice and even crouches down a bit) “–being fat.” He pauses for a minute as the only people who presumably heard him, imnotme and myself, give no response. YoungerBro also elicits no response. Jake briefly measures the pauses on his Gauge of Social Awkwardness, and quickly attempts to apologize for the remark by muttering half-apologetically, half arrogantly, “Man, that was real shallow of me to say, huh?”
Well, no shit. The thing is, not one outside on that patio was “fat.” Plenty of people were “skinny,” including a few guys, and no one had anything affirming to say in response to his assertion that being skinny is better than being fat. Imnotme and myself were the only ones that presumably heard him, but the fact that no one even bothered to affirm his assertion seemed to spark his Gauge. Perhaps it had something to do with the underlying implication that, in order to be compared to fat people in the way that Jake did it to YoungerBro, you’d have to be what he (and his peers) would deem to be too skinny. You know, for a dude. Dudes can be big, chicks can be skinny. Dudes don’t get (relevant) shit for being big, chicks don’t get (genuinely negative) shit for being skinny.
One more glaring, obnoxious example of ridiculous expectations that men and women are faced with, perpetuated by someone that everyone thinks is such a goddamn Nice Fucking Dude.
There were other examples of the ways that Jake occasionally stuck out like a sore thumb at this party, but I can no longer remember them all. The point remains, though, that someone may be extra nice to you, and a real asshat to everyone else, and in Jake’s case, it likely has everything to do with where he grew up, and his privileged background. It’s really easy to grow up white, rich, and sheltered. It’s really easy to quickly pass judgment on the people you see every day who don’t look exactly like you. It’s really easy to assume that because someone isn’t like you, that they are somehow defective, unreasonable, or lazy. It’s really easy to be known as a Nice Dude when you don’t even notice what a dick you are otherwise. It’s so easily forgivable, right?
It’s hard to be in a situation like that, for me personally, and listen to people like him, voice booming, about things like how being “too” skinny is better than being fat. It’s hard for me to stay quiet, but it’s even harder for me to say something confrontational or to correct his arrogance. At least there’s a bright side. The bright side is that, 5 years ago, if I were to have gone to a similar party and a Jake showed up and started running his mouth, 90% of the other partygoers would have joined in. My social circles haven’t changed much– they include different individual people, but the ideologies shared in the various groups remained the same– so it’s not necessarily that I just started hanging around better people. Maybe we’re all just growing up, realizing that things aren’t as black and white as we thought they were before, and now, 90% of the people at the party will, at the very minimum, cringe.
I don’t think that Jake is not a nice guy; I will willingly allow him that label, but I will not feel comfortable allowing him the grace of being ignorant when it’s avoidable. Maybe that is the distinction; if a person is aware of their ignorance or arrogance, then they have enough sense to change their ways, and only pride or stubbornness is standing in their way. That is a choice, and therefore, in my mind, unforgivable. If one has the mental capacity to consider whether or not they are in the right or wrong about an opinion or statement that they made, then one has the sense to be a progressive and respectable individual. If they are not a progressive and respectable individual upon realizing that they have the choice, then in my mind, they are no longer eligible for my social forgiveness or good graces. That does, of course, mean that I am declaring that I have the “right answers”; otherwise, how would I even be capable of making a decision about this person’s societal worth? The problem is that I am perpetually annoyed by people or groups that declare, or at least believe, that what they think, feel, believe, etc., is superior to other ideologies, so naturally, I do not want to be one of those people.
I’m not sure that I believe that people can change who they are and what they believe in a matter of minutes, or based on a class or a conversation with someone who holds a different perspective than theirs’… but, I do believe that people can change their minds and I believe that anytime someone changes their mind, it’s probably a good idea.