9 Growing Up (What) in America?
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9 Growing Up (What) in America? JERALD N. MARRS I'm Mr. Green Christmas, I'm Mr. Sun, I'm Mr. Heat Blister, I'm Mr. Hundred-and-one, They call me Heat Miser, Whatever I touch, Starts to melt in my clutch, I'm too much. Mr. Heat Miser "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (1974) Do you recognize these lyrics? Can you hum them to yourself and include the next verse about Mr. Cold Miser? Are these words part of your culture? These are the words that first triggered a realization in my life. A realization that no matter how hard I try, I can't stop being white. I can't undo my culture. And I have tried hard to do just that. But what does this mean? What does this make me? I grew up white. Born in Utah, raised in New Mexico and Colorado. Graduated from a white/middle-class high school near Denver, and then went out into the world to discover life. In the process I moved to California, joined the air force, went to six colleges , and finally graduated from Berkeley with a degree in anthropology. The years after my graduation from high school were spent learning about and exploring other cultures. I studied the Salmon Indians of the Northwest, the Nuer of Africa, the Ecstatics of Morocco . I became a Vietnamese linguist for the u.s. Air Force, and was immersed in their culture while I learned the language at the Defense Language Institute. I was transferred to Japan, where I refused to live on base because it seemed ludicrous to isolate myself when I could experience the country itself. While there, I married my wife, a Chinese-American woman I'd met while working in California. I studied different religions, including the Taoist, Buddhist, and Baptist, and took another look at my own religion, Episcopalian. I did all this in a quest to discover who I was and who I wanted to be. I was looking for a culture, a set of ideals and beliefs, something to cling to in a world where I was positive it was bad to be "white." Then, I returned to Colorado to attend law school in Boulder. And suddenly I was once again immersed in white America. While living in white America, I realized something: I am white; I cannot change it; in fact, I kind of enjoy it. This realization began to set in during my first Christmas back in Colorado, while I was in my first year of law school. My wife and I had some friends over for dinner. He is a Copyright © 1996 by Jerald N. Marrs. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material Growing Up (What) in America? 37 Latino from Venezuela, she a blue-eyed blond from Wisconsin. We began discussing the Christmas specials that were coming on, and one of my favorites flashed back. The song hit me and I started singing: I'm Mr. Green Christmas, I'm Mr. Sun, I'm Mr. Heat Blister, I'm Mr. Hundred-and-one. My wife and my friend from Venezuela just stared at me, but my friend from Wisconsin joined in. We had something in common from our past, and, as I later realized, we shared a culture. I had never been able to see-or really consider-the culture of whites because I was always a part of it. A cultural analogy I've heard used in anthropology holds that when you are standing in a line trying to analyze it, it's very hard to do because you're a part of the line. When you step out of the line, however, you can look back in on it and see the dynamics that are affecting and shaping the actions of the people that are in the line. I hadn't realized it, but because I had looked so hard at other cultures (lines) for the past nine years, I had stepped out of my white American line. Therefore, when I found myself back in the line it came as a big shock: I suddenly realized I was white. Here I was, white. I was standing in this line looking out at all the other lines around me. I have something in common with those who are in line with me. I may be standing in the express, cash-only, nine-item line, yet I'm able to see the people standing next to me in the twelve...