Last night, February 16, 2018, I attended the Reagan Day Dinner that was hosted by the Dallas County Republican Party. The keynote speaker was none other than our current Vice President of the US of A, Mike Pence. I guess I should tell you I’m not a Republican. But, I am not a Democrat either. I’m not Tea Party or Green Party or any other party. I dislike aligning myself with groups that will create a barrier between someone and me based solely on association. So there you have it.
According to my name tag, I was assigned to table 111. When I arrived there was a couple there. She was smiling, cheerful and full of energy. He was quiet, distracted and eating the dessert that was preset on the table. She smiled brightly, introduced herself then after reading my name tag she asked where I went to school.
I’ve grown use to this question over the years. At first it took me by surprise. That and the other question people ask to determine your pedigree. The very first time someone asked me, “What does your father do for a living?” We had just started attending an evangelical, conservative, Christian church. I was thrown off kilter and slightly offended. Since I didn’t grow up with my dad playing a direct role in my life I didn’t want to or feel the need to talk about him. I asked my then husband why people kept asking me that question. He said they were trying to determine who I was which was based upon my father’s occupation. Well, how do you politely tell people it’s none of their business or better yet who he is does not define who I am. I’ll move on. We can discuss my father issues another day.
Back to the question of where I went to school. It may seem innocent enough but is it really? In a matter of nano seconds I wondered how she would judge me based upon my answer? Will this give her confirmation of biases she may already have? Will this become a potential place of judgement if I didn’t graduate from the “right” school?
I responded to her question. I have a bachelor degree from Texas Tech University and a Master of Education from the University of North Texas. As our table filled up she took on the role of table host and introduced me by my first name and the colleges I attended. The rest of the members of our group were related so I ended being the only one formally introduced.
Why does this matter? It’s one of many things that divide us. It’s one of the many barriers that keep us from changing parties or being able to hear what’s being said. If I walk away from you self conscious and feeling belittled then I will not expose myself or my life. I might feel judged and maybe even feel as though I don’t fit in. It’s hard to blend in at dinner that cost $175 per person. It’s not the church picnic. (Just to clarify I didn’t not pay to attend. I know people who know people.) The conversation is different, the dress code is different, the expectations are different.
I grew up in a neighborhood that was filled with single mothers. It never crossed my mind to ask about someone’s father or to ask where their mother went to school in reference to colleges. Back in my mother’s day there was one public high school for people of color, Booker T Washington. There was no need to ask until Pinkston became the second segregated high school in the area. The assumption was not that our parents went to college but more of the men were drafted and went to the Vietnam war or maybe one of the HBCUs. If our parents had gone to college we would not have been living in that apartment complex. At least that’s what I like to believe.
On the other side of the road education and your father’s occupation determine your level of worthiness or pedigree. I’m not saying it’s intentional but it’s definitely there and for me it’s uncomfortable and still not something I ask. It still doesn’t cross my mind or seem relevant to who the person is or their station in life.
Funny story time:
There were seven other people at the table. Six of them were guys. From my assessment they were all related. One of the elders started quietly yelling at the other elder. His face was red and he was visibly angry. The angry guy was the uncle and the one he was taking his quiet rage out on was his brother in law (bil). Apparently the brother in law lost the uncle’s phone. The uncle demanded the bil get up and take pictures of VP Pence. He slowly got up to take the pictures. Meanwhile the female who was also the girlfriend of one of the younger guys asked, “did you call your phone?” He angrily replied, “call with what phone?” One of the younger guys called the uncle’s cell phone. The suit pocket of another of the younger ones started to vibrate. The uncle immediately calmed down and regretted calling his bil an idiot a few minutes earlier. He ordered one of the boys to make an apology to his bil for the mistake. That was the highlight of my evening.