A few days ago a rather unfortunate scene played out on Twitter over what appears to have began as a misunderstanding rooted in cultural differences and semantics. But it goes to show that words, cultural biases and differences, and intentions matter more than we think. I was mentioned in the original Shonda Rhimes thread on Saturday and have watched the flurry of tweets fly in. I’d like to share a little insight that might unravel this situation. This isn’t “man-splaining” or anything of the sort. I’m just a guy who likes seeing people get along.
A little background
I’m a black American who writes about race in America. I’ve lived in the south the majority of my life, have the pleasure of knowing a few Brits, and have traveled to London. I also write about race in America. A lot.
The American Cultural Bias
Black Americans have been denigrated as being the “other” and less than in just about every way imaginable; from culture to speech to dress and the way we conduct ourselves in public to name a few. As a black American, there’s a certain amount of bias that comes with living in a society where people of your color are regularly viewed by some as outside the norm. So with that said, I can understand Tami’s reaction that Jacky’s comment about Doria Ragland was insensitive because … that was my initial reaction as well.
But hear me out … that is not my perception now. Let me explain.
The British Cultural Bias
British culture is riddled with rules concerning how to interact with Royals, as evidenced by the fact that Britain has a royal family that is set apart from your average Joe and Jane. They’re referred to as commoners. I’m not familiar with all the formal Do’s and Don’t’s that have been in place for centuries regarding conduct in the presence of the royal family, but I bet there’s even more rules in place regarding one’s conduct in the presence of the Queen (or the reigning monarch) which have been in existence for centuries. I’m guessing it is a very particular set of rules as they seem to intimidate most commoners. (And probably a few foreigners, too.) And that code of conduct has been kind of baked into British culture.
While both the United Kingdom and United States share a common language, several of those words are used differently and carry different emotional contexts in each country.
Lift, in the United States, means to raise something to a higher position. Lift, in Great Britain, is an elevator. Same word, different meanings and used in different contexts. (Okay, so this word doesn’t have emotional context, but you get my point.)
Behave, in the United States, refers to how one acts or conducts one’s self; but most often it’s used in the context of children conducting themselves in a manner that is considered appropriate or proper. Behave, in the Great Britain, I’m guessing is a more relaxed synonym for comportment or some other word.
The Middle Way
Now if a Briton takes into consideration the bit I mentioned about the denigration of black Americans, it’s understandable how Tami or anyone else might take offense at the tweet in question. And if an American takes into consideration the bit about about how there’s a slew of rules about conduct when in the presence of the Queen, it’s easy to slide a little wiggle room for that same tweet. And if both the American and the Briton take into consideration the language thing, I think everyone might be able to see that this only small misunderstanding and no offense was intended, especially when we all can agree that the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was a smashing success on so many levels.
The part the really makes me want to believe that Jacky meant no offense is everything that follows the word in dispute: impeccably and with great class and decorum. I don’t think there could be higher praise of anyone’s conduct in the presence the Queen than those seven words. That’s just one man’s opinion.
Love one another.