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Friday, January 16, 2015

Code: Understanding the Hidden Meaning Behind What Southerners Say

Recently, I've had the occasion to spend some time abroad. Being away from Americans, except for the occasional tourist or US government employee, gave me time to disconnect from the language mainframe, to reboot, and to examine upon my return the coded language used by Americans when they wish to hide their real intent. I got the opportunity to hear anew how coded questions are phrased to feel me - a middle-aged white male - out on where I stand politically, racially, on sexual orientation, and on religion.

One of the first people I spoke with at length was my dermatologist at the VA. The Code he employs is the use of American football references. As he was examining me - I tend to have skin issues being a light-blond, fair-skinned, sun-loving Caucasian (that's "Aryan GOD" to you swarthy, hirsute motherfuckers!) - I noted that his 2 assistants, one female and one male, were also examining me, but they weren't interested in my skin, only in my answers to the doctor's questions. They put a pair of tanning goggles on me while he used a tremendously bright light to look deeply into my skin. The goggles gave me the shield of anonymity behind which to watch the looks on the faces of the two nurses and see the exchange of glances, shrugs, shaken heads, and other non-verbal communications they used to signal their disgust at my answers. And trust me, I gave them fuel for a whole-body workout: I'm gay, an atheist, a Democratic Socialist, and particularly, vehemently, violently non-racist.

On several instances, I would laugh as the two nurses mugged, clearly oblivious to the fact that I could see them pretty well through the tiny, dark-green-tinted lenses of the goggles. The doctor would ask me what was funny, and I told him that I would laugh sometimes when I was in pain; he was giving my skin hell with an abrasive-tipped device, poking, rasping, prodding, and he took a biopsy none-too-gently and without a local anesthetic, something they all seemed aghast that they'd forgotten once it was too late to do anything about it. I guess they were too busy being shocked to remember why it was that they were know...assisting the physician.

At any rate, the doctor began by asking me about "them Dawgs", the University of Georgia football team. When I told him that I didn't watch football, the room fell silent, the nurses looked at each other and nodded, but after an awkward moment, he drove on as if I had said yes, that I had watched last Saturday's game. He kept asking me what I thought of such-and-such a player or the quarterback or of some player's off-field antics. I would reply each time that I didn't keep up with football, didn't know any of the players, and didn't really care what they did off-field. But then I floored them when I said that I thought that football ought to be a separate entity from academics, that it had supplanted the real reason for attending university, and that I thought it should be removed completely from colleges and universities. The doctor stopped, took a step back, raised his glasses, rested them on his forehead, and said, "You mean you don't like FOOTBALL?", while slowly looking for the sign that must say "FAGGOT" somewhere on my body. So, I came out with it: "Nope, I'm gay". The male nurse rolled his eyes, confident I'm sure that I couldn't see him. The female nurse pursed her lips and shook her head while looking at me like I'd just admitted to screwing the family dog or something. But the doctor's reaction was best; he set down the miniature torture device he had been scraping my skin with and carefully snugged each glove, then nodded to his assistants that they should do the same, which they both did. I almost laughed out loud. It's pretty well known in Podunkia that all gay men have AIDS, even the ones what don't. Or maybe it's cooties. I forget.

So, "doesn't like football" = "gay as fuck". Got it.

"Where do you go to church?" Well, first of all, that's a pretty big assumption, but what you really mean is, 'are you one of them godless atheists?' Or worse, 'are you a Catholic?' Or worse STILL, 'are you a Jew, one of them what killt THE LORD (Jesus)?' Yes, I am a godless heathen, but no, I don't worship Satan because, you know, that would be a form of theism.

"Them up yonder in Washington done rurnt the country, ain't they?" "You mean the Republicans in Congress?" Short silence, followed by a derisive laugh, then "Weellll, nooo, I think they's done 'bout good as they could havin' to deal with that nig...I mean Obammer".

Gotcha. "Obammer" = "that nigger", because that's what you were going to say, huh Reverend? Well, that's mighty Christian of you. Is that a Confederate flag on the butt of your shotgun, Rev? Thought so. And no, I don't listen to (now US Congressman) Rev. Jodi Hice's radio show. Never have, never will. Well, not unless my future home - the one you're pretty sure I'm heading to - experiences temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius. (And I'm sure that my use of Celsius is code for "science-loving Commie faggot atheist" too, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

So, references to "Obammer" or "them up yonder in Washington" or the like are tossed out to see how one responds. If you nod and show disgust, then you're a Real American, which you damn well better be if you're WHITE, MALE, and MIDDLE-AGED, but if you show any sign of disagreement at all, then there's a crack in the firmament and they will, if necessary, use your body as caulking to fill the gap in order to keep the...I don't know...stupid-gas, or whatever, from leaking out of their tiny widdle universe.

Not-Republican = Commie pinko bastard.

And then there's Not-Code: The blatant use of the word "nigger" right to your face.I guess they figure that, hey, if you're white, you're a racist, so...BLAMMO! And it's use is ubiquitous in the South. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for 18 years and trust me, it's a racist as the South is, they just hide it better. For example, in that entire period, I never - not even once - heard a white person say "nigger" unless they were friends with, and speaking to, an actual black person. Still, it makes me cringe. But here in the South, it's just, "blah blah blah the weather, blah blah blah The Lord, blah blah NIGGER!" I'm sorry, WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY? "Um, you mean about the weather?" Uh, nooo... "Oh, you mean when I was talking 'bout Jesus?" You're getting warmer, Dweezil...  How about when you said "nigger"? "Why, what's wrong with that??"

Fuck me with a dictionary.

It's like this in a lot of America, now; I just pick on the South because it's the low-hanging fruit. There's a ton of Code, way more than I could catalog at one sitting because it makes my brain sore thinking about it. Add to the list in the doobley-do below. I'm curious what others have heard.