Sunday, August 14, 2022

Why do you wish to explain my world to me?

This is going to be a bit of a ramble. But humor me. I think I’m going somewhere with this. It’s just going to take time to unpack this bag of seemingly disparate notions that recently came into confluence. I promise I’ll get to it, eventually.  

So, we’ve been watching this TV series at home called, “This Is Us.” We’re into the 5th season of six. It was a popular series, seen on broadcast television. We’re streaming it. Of course.

All this to say, when they got into the season of 2020, with Covid and George Floyd, a lot of issues between White and Black people in the series were laid bare. And it got me to thinking about my blind spots, with regard to Bipoc and Apida peoples.

The thing about a blind spot is, you often aren’t aware of it. So, usually someone, or something, must point it out to you. You rarely can “see” it on your own. So, let me give examples from my life.

During that time period (summer of 2020) a couple of (college) friends and I were talking about doing a Zoom call. One was a White woman, in California. The other was a Black man in D.C. We were old friends, back in the day. We still try and stay in touch.

So, we talked about this Zoom call and my buddy in D.C. said he’d get back with dates that worked for him. He’s a busy guy. So, we waited for him. Eventually, not wanting to bug him, and considering all around us that was going on, the last thing he needed was a White guy bugging him about a call among college friends of yore. So, my friend in California and I went ahead with the call.

About that time my bud in D.C. and I share birth days close. So, I wished him a happy birthday and told him I had a good call with our mutual friend and was sorry he missed it. I didn’t say it to be mean or to make him feel bad. But I did make him feel bad, and he let me know that he didn’t appreciate me firing off a membership loyalty drill. I tripped the guilt lever.

Now, I know about the guilt lever, and in my mind, that wasn’t my intention. But it doesn’t matter. Because it did trigger my friend, and I initiated something which triggered it. So, I owned it and apologized. But I think it ostracized me from him and his world.

I’m not Black. I will never know what it means to be Black. I am a White male of (mainly) European descent, heavily skewed towards Italian. That is my place. Those are my people. I have studied the Italian culture all my adult life. And while I am not an expert on all things Italian, I know what I know. More about that later.

More examples. When I was about 9, I was walking with a White friend of, Danny, at the local ball park. On the other side of the ballpark, I saw a Black friend, Johnny, and I called to him. Now bear with me with what I said – I called out to him and said, “Hey nigger, whatcha doing?” Well, he came over, ran over, and was going to beat the crap out of me. I was scared, yes, but also confused. My White friend got in between us, as he knew our Black friend was pissed. But he saw the confusion in my eyes.

Johnny was going to kick my ass because I called him a nigger. Danny was trying to keep Johnny from doing that. I was flummoxed. And I asked Johnny why he was so angry. “Because you can’t call me that.” I apologized and said I was sorry, I was just calling him the name all his friends called him at the boy’s club, where we played pool and ping pong. I was too young to know it was a bad word. I had never heard the word in my house. Danny convinced Johnny that I didn’t know what I was saying. So, Johnny backed off, but he said to me, “Don’t you ever call a Negro that word ever!” Believe me, I never did.

Fast forward to college years and my D.C. friend and parents’ house in Los Angeles where he lived when he was young. His sister was talking to him in a side room and called him that (N) word. I did a double take. It was then, and there, that I realized that a forbidden word might have cultural boundaries.

Another for instance: In the Northeast of the U.S., Italian-Americans use a term, Goombah, that when used among themselves is considered congenial. But if an outsider says it, well, those could be fighting words. I’m not a fan of the word, but I understand where it came from and how it came to be changed from the word it used to be. I don’t think it has anywhere near the same charge and triggering effect the (N) word has, but all this to say I understand now when a word is not to be used outside of the culture that uses it. There are other much larger reasons, as well.

So. Whew. This is a big bag. Lots of stuff in it. Endure just a little longer.

A few years ago, I got an email from a wine writer. I had asked this person about a winery region in Italy that they had just gone to (for the second or third time), and to make friendly conversation, I asked them what they found, what they liked, wines, people, etc.

A few weeks later I went to that region, as I have been doing for 50 years, with multiple visits, over many days and weeks.  In other words, it was a place I was intimately familiar with. And it was part of my heritage. From a vinous perspective, the surroundings where my expertise was hammered out. I know this place.

Eventually, when I got back, some articles were written, including one by another wine writer who had also been on that trip. And this first wine writer wrote me a fairly acerbic email, upbraiding me for revealing, to the other wine writer, their special finds from that region. I clarified that I did nothing of the sort, and if they had a problem with the other wine writer, to take it up with them. I was polite. But we were talking  about my oenological (and ethnological) back yard.

As far as I am concerned, wineries aren’t something a single person finds. They are simply there. And they were probably there a time or two when I was there, which was a decade or two (or three) before our hyper-sensitive wine writer visited and “discovered” the place.

Nonetheless, all this left a bad taste in my mouth, because I didn’t understand there was a boundary around winery X or winery Y in Region Z that I had to ask someone else’s permission to visit or photograph or write about. And it was my people's place, my tribe.

But for sure, I will never know how someone outside of myself perceives the world around us. And so, I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. Until now.

Now I see, all around me, in the wine world, experts appearing, who have seldom, if ever, been to a region that I have been to dozens of times. These “experts” who, once they get a free junket, now write about the place as if no one else had ever set foot on the spot. Who misspell the names of the grapes or the wines or the people or the towns, when it is so easy to find the proper spelling on the internet. But now they are the whiz kids, the "discoverers." As if that gives them a pass to forgo due diligence and not check their facts. Some of them are even teaching master classes! And many of them have not an iota of Italian blood in them. Oh, but I’m supposed to be open-minded and understanding.

Alright, alright, I can do that. I will do that.

But I’d like to say one thing about that: How is it some of you don’t want me to (rightfully) explain your world to you, but some of you, out there, are still trying to explain my world to me?  ‘Splain that to me, please.

Or maybe, just maybe, we’ve just reached the point where everything worth writing (and telling and teaching and master-classing) about wine has already been done?




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