Friday, July 11, 2008

White Folk 101

When I went away to college the first few days were filled with freshman orientation. This was mostly a whole bunch of 18 year olds hanging out together, meeting their faculty advisers, and getting, well, oriented. One of the things the university planned for us was entertainment of the ice breaking kind.

Now, I had come from what would be called an inner city school to this university in the middle of Amish country. My high school had double the population and 8.3 million times the diversity. My high school class was 30% Caucasian, 30% African American, 30% Hispanic and 10% other. My university had about 3 black kids and a couple of international students. Other than that, it was white, white, white. White.

Until this orientation get-to-know-you-thingy, I hadn't realized that despite being heavily Caucasian myself, I hadn't really grown up within "white culture." One of the activities was a sing along (I know, totally fun thing to do with a bunch of strangers you just met. You're so jealous.) Turns out, I had not been exposed to something most of these other white folks had been raised with and that was Jimmy Buffet. All of a sudden a whole cafeteria full of people were singing:

I don't know, I don't know,
I don't know where I'm a-gonna go
When the volcano blows.

I clearly remember being on the edge of panic thinking, "What the fuck? Did I miss a memo?" It was like those dreams where you get to class and there's a test you didn't know about. My test was on "things white people listen to." If they had asked, "what is CCR?" I would have been equally baffled. Yet everyone else seemed to be up on their John Fogerty and Bob Seger. I can imagine it's what being an exchange student feels like but I didn't have a cool accent or second language to fall back on.

The whitest music I listened to was probably Boys to Men. If they'd asked me to sing all the lyrics to TLC's Ain't too Proud to Beg or Gerardo's Rico, Suave I could have. Am I proud of that? Maybe. All I knew then was that somewhere in my upbringing I missed out on very pertinent white folk information. (Later in the year I couldn't believe the fervor that happened whenever the latest J. Crew catalog hit campus.)

Luckily, I had brought along my Weird Al collection so I was still accepted as one of them. Sort of. [Aside: for a list of other things white people like, go here.]

And here, for your own edification are TLC, Gerardo, and Jimmy.

No comments: