by Andy Offutt Irwin
When Andy was a child living in the Deep South, he visited some of his family in Colorado. A woman out there told Andy, “Everybody in Georgia is a bigot.” This put him on the road to thinking about Racial Default Thinking. Every day this informs his storytelling.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Everybody-and-Nobody-Racial-Default-Thinking
- In what ways may you be guilty of “racial default” thinking and conversation?
- What does an “all-American” person look like?
- What does it mean to be ethnocentric? What are ways we can rise above ethnocentrism?
- Discrimination by Default: How Racism Becomes Routine by Lu-in Wang
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Report – Structural Racism and Community Building
- The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change
- Crossing Cultures
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, I’m Andy Offutt Irwin and I call this little talk “Everybody and Nobody.” When I was, uh, uh, 12 years old in 1970, the summer that I was 12 years old, my adult cousin flew me out to Denver to spend a whole month with him and his wife. This is a very big deal for me and it was the very first time I was on an airplane. But, most importantly, it was the very first time I was ever out of the South. He had a lot of kids in his neighborhood and I played with those kids and we had a great time. And it was Kool-Aid time or whatever and we went into one of the kids’ house and we were all full of chatter and my accent really flew through. My accent was very, very thick when I was a kid. And one of the moms, the mom there in that house, looked at me and she said, “Where are you from?”
I said, “I’m from Georgia.”
And she said, “Everybody from Georgia is a bigot! Everybody from Georgia is a bigot!”
I didn’t have the tools to respond to her and I couldn’t go on and express how hurt that made me feel. But that “everybody” stuck with me. Everybody’s a bigot.
A lot of years later, I was talking to my very nice aunt, who is a very kind person and she and I, actually, are very close. And she was talking about the home that she and her husband had built in 1940, way out in the country, in Southeast Newton County and it was a rural area.
She said, “Well, when we built it, there were no suburbs around here that… like there are now. And there was only a black neighborhood. Nobody was out here.”
Nobody was out there. It was just a black neighborhood; they’re nobody. And that “everybody” and that “nobody” came together. Everybody’s a bigot. Nobody is out here!
And that set me to thinking about racial default thinking. Racial default thinking is a sociological term coined by the great sociologist of DeRee Univ… It’s sensible. All right. I made it up. Racial default thinking informs my main character, Marguerite Van Camp. Now Marguerite is a white lady; she is 85 years old and only recently graduated from medical school. She named her hospital, “Southern White Old Lady Hospital” and she explains it like this.
“Well, when I was 40 years old, my girlfriends and I, we all decided to go to New York together. No husbands, no children, just the girls who were turning 40. And none of us had ever been north of Virginia. We had never been out of the South. And we got in my husband Charles’ Plymouth and we drove all the way up and we encountered nothing but nice people. Because if you go around the world expecting people to be nice to you, they’ll usually be nice to you. It’s true, young people. Anyway, we… everyone was nice until we went to the Broadway show that we were going to go see and I went to the box office and I talked to the lady at the box office. I said, “We’re here to see this play “Man of La Mancha.”
She said, “It’s not a play; it’s a musical!”
“Oh, bless you for telling me! Well, these ah in the name of Marguerite Van Camp.”
And she said, “Where are you from?”
I said, “We’h all from Georgia.”
She said, “Everybody from Georgia’s a bigot.”
“Oh,” I said, “Oh! Oh, do you mean the white people or everybody?”
And I get to have Marguerite do that for me. And she gets to do that for the 12-year-old kid in me. And that’s why she’s around. And that’s why she helps us all with understanding racial default thinking. Marguerite, being a recovering racist.