It was in my first semester at UC Berkeley that I got fully introduced to just how dumb, rambling, and endless a “question” could be. There was this woman in my Modernist Poetry class (don’t laugh, it was the best class and Thom Gunn one of the best lecturers I ever had, may that gifted man forever hyperbole (ie RIP)) who was obviously a re-entry student. These students are people that I admire in general. They’re coming to college at a late point than the rest of the students (post 30’s) and they’re balancing a full time job and often raising kids to go to school. They are usually only at a state college level though and you don’t see too many at the UC level. Regardless, there was this woman, who I think was some kind of ex druggie that had slipped her way in to Berkeley somehow. I assume this because of the ragged, negatively synaptic questions she would ask. Here’s a typical example:
“Ezra Pound was a really complicated guy. I think that in your reading a lot of things make sense and a lot don’t, but overall he was trying to do something new. So, do you think it was possible, that maybe, he could have, possibly been interested in attempting to wonder how it could that he was never ever thinking about how it could have been that he was ahead of his time?”
To which Gunn would usually respond, “Sure, I think that’s possible. Next.”
And I kid you not. Her questions were really like this and if you had been on the South Side of campus kicking back badly-mixed sangria from someone’s bathtub the night before, it was all the more painful to sit through. Well, it appears she was preparing me for real life.
It seems that white people in the US can’t really ask a proper question most of the time. At first I thought it was everyone and just a certain subset of population at large, but after sitting through a talk by John Francis at the SF Public Library yesterday, I realized that a) it’s not everyone and b) it’s freakin’ white folk who can’t simply get to the point of asking a question.
I mean, Dr. Francis was an animated speaker who talked about things that are relatively common sense, but are things he has had a great deal of time to think about due to a vow of not using motorized transport and a vow of silence that lasted for a good chunk of his life. But after the talk, there were the white folk stating these idiotic pontifications before actually getting to a question that was ultimately uninteresting. All these questions were blueprinted on the similar ones that the re-entry student asked back in my Berkeley days and Dr. Francis would always have to think for a second and ask for clarification on what they were asking. Whenever it was anyone nonwhite asking the question, it was just that, a question.
Now that I’ve realized this behavior I think that it stems from one of two possible causes:
- Hyperactive Political Correctedness. I think that those who are more liberal in the white community at large are so scared of offending someone that this translates in to padding everything that we Caucasians say so that there is no possible way it could be taken wrong. I often get accused of generalizing by folks. And from their standpoint, it’s true, I am. But, from mine, I’m just getting to the point. I’m not beating around the bush because I believe that if you have something to say: fucking say it.
- Arrogance. A great many of these “questions” seem to start with a good deal of reaction and “insight” on the part of the person asking the question. The question seems to be merely an excuse to show off how much they know or how smart they think they are on a subject. I think that whiteness plays in to the equation as they have grown up with the benefit of someone telling them that their opinion matters or is more valid simply because of their skin tone.
Whatever the real cause, the end result is that whenever one of my white brothers asks a question in a Q&A session, I cringe. I know that in what little question there is posed, it will be so shrouded in linguistic mystery that it was better off not being asked, which is why I often don’t ask question at these things because it is very rare that I feel I have anything terribly important to ask for everyone to hear.