Breaking the code for 'those people'

Monica Norton

January 08, 1992|By Monica Norton

THE WOMAN called to complain about Anne Arundel County teachers. She said she was sick of their whining about a possible four-day furlough to help balance the county's budget.

But somewhere, midway through the conversation, her complaint about teachers turned into a condemnation of Baltimore city and its residents.

"I will say this about Anne Arundel schools: They do a good job of educating the kids," the woman said. "It's not like in the city.

"I don't even go into the city anymore. It's dangerous. It's filthy. It's just a dirty place," she added.The problems of the city -- from high taxes to a seemingly out-of-control murder rate -- are described daily in this newspaper. So, initially, I did not take offense at the woman's comments.

But I did take great offense as she continued.

"And the people [in the city]," she said. "They don't care anything about their kids. Those people don't care if their kids go to school or not."

It was the "those people" that got to me.

Maybe I'm being a little sensitive. (However, considering the fact that a former Ku Klux Klansman and neo-Nazi is running for president and has gained significant support, maybe I have a right to be sensitive.)

But when people say "those people," they are using code words, just as David Duke does. And the code is easily broken. It refers to minorities. More often than not, it refers to blacks.

Coding is not for "those people." It is for the people who do not want to be perceived as being prejudiced. True racists have no problem admitting their prejudices. They may be racists, but at least they're honest.

No, coding is for people who are quick to deny prejudice. That includes the woman who called to complain about the teachers. As nice as she seemed to be, she, too, is prejudiced, as are we all. But just by her use of "those people," I know she would deny the accusation vehemently.

I would not begin to deny that there are people in the city, black people, who don't care about their children. But there are people of every race, of every county and of every social and economic status who do not care about their children.

I know a single mother of two who lives near one of the worst drug areas in Baltimore city. In fact, drug deals "go down" day and night in her neighborhood.

But every morning she bathes, clothes and feeds her two children before walking them to school. If she is not working during the daytime, she stays at her son's pre-school to help out. In the evening, she makes sure both of her children do their homework.

Plastic letters and numbers adorn her refrigerator door. As she works in the kitchen, she points out those letters and numbers to her 3-year-old son so he will be prepared to enter elementary school.

She is not the exception, but the rule. She is one of "those people." Tell her she doesn't care.

Monica Norton is an Evening Sun reporter.

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