What we call purselves and why we shouldn't
Brett Snyder, Apr 19, 2007
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Transients, street kids, gutter punks, vagabonds, crusties and hippies -- all of these are labels put on homeless youth by the world and by themselves. People today (and most likely in the past) tend to want to file other people into little categories, forgetting that everyone is an individual, unique person, not that willing to take the time to see some old beggar as anything more than a homebum.
More than likely that bum has a past full of interesting experiences and great knowledge that he'd probably be willing to share for about the price of, oh...nothing. The poor old guy would probably just enjoy some company. Who knows, maybe this guy was a philosophy professor at U.C. Berkeley, or a Navy Seal, and fell on hard times like addiction. Maybe a mental condition brought him to the streets or maybe he just enjoys the freedom and adventure of an alternative lifestyle on the streets. You'll never know until you stop assuming and let a person show you who they really are. You can learn something from everyone.
Stereotyping and labeling are pretty much the same as racism. For example, awhile back my girlfriend and I were working at a cafe and as a result of us forming a heroin addiction, we began to slack off at work. In the morning we would oversleep and get to work late. In the afternoon we'd start to get sick and have to ask to leave early. After about a week of this, the boss came to reprimand my girlfriend. In doing so he called her a "junkie." By the way she flipped out and stormed out of the cafe you'd have thought that he slapped her.
On the other hand we call each other junkies on a regular basis. We call ourselves and our junkie friends junkies and it's all fine and good, but this guy, the boss, calling her that was just different. It was an insult and a judgment. He may as well have called her a scumbag. It's very similar to the very sensitive and controversial word nigger. It's fine and dandy for two black guys to call each other nigger or say something like "what's up my nigga'" because it's often a term of affection. If someone white were to say that, it would be offensive as all hell. Then it becomes racist and degrading.
My girlfriend and I came from two different styles of the same way of life -- homeless -- and changed each other to become one. When I met her I was a lot more of a hippie. I smoked a lot more pot than I do now and I was much more of a pacifist. She was more hard-core and aggressive, more of a punk, but she's learned to be nicer to people. Nicer? Heck, she used to not even like people at all. I've learned to tell people when they are pushing my limits and not let people walk on me or use me because of my kindness. Almost everyone has labels for the people in society that are different from them. I refer to the S.U.V. driving, Gap-wearing folks as "yuppies" and business people as "suits." I guess no one's perfect and it's hard to get to know everyone especially in a big city but we should if nothing else try not to use the terms that intentionally hurt, insult or offend others.
One day when we're feeling exceptionally open minded we should try to meet someone who is completely different from ourselves. It's nice to see the world from a different viewpoint. I like theatre so much because the actor gets to see through the eyes of other people and think from a different perspective all the time. When you play a character, you can't stereotype the person. If you personally think this character is a jerk, chances are the character doesn't think so. He has a perfectly logical reason for the way that he thinks and feels. I once played a Klansman in the play "The Foreigner." I had to see the world through his eyes and find things that made him think and believe the way he does, otherwise it wouldn't have come off believable. This doesn't mean that I'm a racist, but on the stage I was.
As for me, if you need to categorize me, I would like to be seen as an artist, an adventurer, a person who is free from the constraining format of American society; i.e. having a house, a job, a wife, and 2.5 kids by the time I'm 30. After two and a half years, my girlfriend and I pretty much come to a middle ground. We've got one mindset. And as for me, you can just call me Brett.
this story was originally written in Feb. 2003
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