The Thing About Hoosiers
I've taught my son a bad word, and I'm not proud of it. It worked it's way in when I wasn't looking. It never even occurred to me, because it's such a common term in St. Louis.
The word is "Hoosier", and it doesn't mean "A graduate from the Universtity of Indiana". At least not in St. Louis, it doesn't. All my life, I've heard this word used daily. I never thought twice about it. Hell, I never thought once about it; until I met someone who was born and raised in Indiana. I was chatting with this person, when a car full of young adults came down the street. The radio was blaring Black Sabbath or some such, every person in the car was smoking, and the vehicle was more rust than steel. I muttered the phrase I'd heard my entire life, "Goddam hoosiers."
My friend from Indiana lifted his eyebrows and said, "...Um... I'm a Hoosier."
I said, "No you're not! You have a college degree. You have a good job. You own your own home, for god's sake. You are not a hoosier."
This led to an edifying conversation. I learned that, outside of St. Louis, "Hoosier" is something to be proud of. My friend learned that, within St. Louis, "hoosier" meant "lowlife caucasion scum with no ambition". Yes, St. Louisans have a different phrase for non-caucasions living below the poverty level. I won't go into them here. They are all derogatory. And that's entirely my point. My mother taught me to judge a person by their actions, not their income or skin color. But when she was teaching me that, she meant that I should not judge anyone but hoosiers. Anyone with a clear ethnic background was potentially a human being, but when you see someone with pale skin and an indeterminate ethnicity -the judgement is on.
It's what I was taught. It's ingrained in me, and I'm not proud of it. I resist it. And every time I think I've got it conquered, every time I cease my vigilance; my bigotry sneaks in the back door.
Over the years, it's snuck in often enough, that my son has a clear definition of the word "hoosier", and it's not pretty. To be fair, the only time I've heard him say "hoosier" is when talking to grown-ups. So I hope his definition is not as restrictive as mine. But it galls me that I've been oblivious to my bias for so long.
Even my friend from Indiana uses "hoosier" now. I asked him why, once; and he responded, "When you don't say hoosier, people see you as an outsider. It's clear you're not from St. Louis. When I say it, I'm accepted."
He now says it as casually as the rest of us do.