Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta

For the past several years, I've adopted the position that going for a drive to nowhere specific with someone, especially a teenager, is a great way to get them to talk. (Sitting across a restaurant table from each other also works because no one has to cook or clean and eating has always been a social event for people.) My youngest sister, Anna (whom I've raised since she was 12) is 19 now. Anna and I go for nowhere drives a lot...and we often talk at length about culture, equality, teen issues, movies and music. Of course, this got a lot easier after Anna turned about 17. Before that, between about age 13 and 17, it seemed like all she did was cry melodramatically and wail that my husband and I were crazy.

Anna has always identified more with the African-American culture and attributes this to having lived around several African-American families as a child where the mother was someone she really enjoyed and respected. Now, on our drives, she talks a lot about her experience as one of the only white people in her groups of friends, about the things people say to her, and about the reactions she gets. It's almost all positive. Anna doesn't try to be anything she's not and I think people, in general, relate to that.

Today she told me that one of her friends commented, "You have all black friends...but you act so white!" This wasn't a cut on her. They were talking about her lack of use of their own sociolect and probably about her choice of stylish but only slightly Hip-Hop-style clothing. I've always spoken to and around her about how I think a person can appreciate and admire another culture, but that one should not appropriate another culture for their own personal use like some sort of fashion statement (which is why I've always wanted to, but have never been quite sure if I should...wear a Sari).

So Anna said she laughed and said, "Hey, I live with the whitest gangsters in the world." She told them about my tendency to say I live in the Hoo-Dizzle, to turn the bass all the way up in the minivan when we're listening to rap music, speak at length about the complicated stories of The Black Panthers and The Conservative Vice Lords, and texting her Tupac lyrics ("We got money for war, but can't feed the poor").

She also did her impression of me singing rap lyrics in my excellent diction and nearly accent-free voice, all while usually wearing a t-shirt and my Danskos. (In case you're wondering why I'm not rapping in my beloved Appalachian accent...I really love it and am fascinated by its history, but growing up in some different areas around the country homogenized my accent.)

The moral of my story is twofold: (1) we're all our coolest when we don't try so hard; and (2) my Danskos are the most gangsta, high-end, healthy foot, comfort shoes...eva.

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