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Unsold y'all op-ed

Wednesday 5/26/21

The scourge that is the Northern “y’all.”

For all of the blather about appropriation in our culture, it’s a wonder more isn’t made about the affluent, entitled, Northern white woman who comes hard at perceived wrongdoers with her telltale “y’all.”

She’ll often use it on her social media posts as a way of signifying, “I am a great possessor of the moral high ground, now listen to me as I educate you in the ways of morality, you rebarbative plebeians who are beneath me.”

The portmanteau, of course, is more the stuff of Southern environs than it is the lingua franca of spaces where the snow falls into March. But it has become a throat-clearing device for the virtue signaler, a kind of rhetorical, prefatory signifier that one is about to be spoken down to, but out of grave—though typically manufactured—need.

I sometimes imagine Puritanical preachers would have gathered themselves up this way in the pulpit, before uncorking their inevitable blast of sententiousness. Southerners tend to use the construction for community; a bringing together of the tribes, whatever those tribes may be. Portions of the family unit, one’s neighbors, visitors, or strangers who are thus welcomed into the fold, as though they’ve always been a part of it.

The Northern “y’all” often comes encased in a veiled threat that is meant to divide, to create what I think of as the lacunae of shame—gaps that are made in our human interactions that can never be pasted over.

“Y’all can just defriend me now if you don’t such and such.” The such and such often hardly matters because the thesis of the “y’all” construction is predicated upon a kind of “nanny nanny boo boo, I am a better person than you, suck it!”

One encounters the expected causes, which take the form of the standard BLM filters and memes, for instance. But one knows the drill. Scan through the concomitant profile miscellany, and there’s no evidence of a single Black friend, and it’s not like a recent Saturday night was spent deep in the music of Billie Holiday while powering through Native Son. You’ll see a gaggle of people who themselves are habitual “y’allers,” like this is the tony suburban analogue of being a high-level baller.

The point is the scoring of points, with passive aggressiveness doubling as Trojan horse. And it’s also a kind of self-hug of bestowed goodness, which is commonly the specialty of people who are at some remove from the real, daily practicing of goodness. That person who manages to shame sans evidence or even real concern. They have at the cops, too, but when the Hispanic landscaper turns on the lawnmower ten minutes before it’s legally permitted, they’ll call the police, though their FB posts will suggest they’d sooner rescue a drowning rat.

My soul sighs when I see the “y’all” in this divide-and-conquer context. I’m not an anti-appropriation person. I say, “feed your head, put as much in it as you can, because the very best of us are the ultimate in human and cultural collages.” We are wrapped in the imbricated fabric of life.

Just as I would say we must extend concern and pity—but not cheap, theatrical pity—to those who feel impelled to speak this way, which is really a form of divisive, hubristic behavior. Because they’re not happy. Which is one thing. A lot of us are not. But it’s also someone not near any kind of road—even an unpaved, weed-choked road—towards happiness. Everybody at least needs proximity to the road. All of us. Which is a hell of a lot different than the “y’all” of us.

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