“Not you, Leo.” For a few years, I heard that so much that I proudly adopted the nickname “Not You Leo.”
That was during my tenure as editorial page editor of the News-Sentinel. I was also one of the girls in the credit department of Fort Wayne Newspapers, parent company of that newspaper and the Journal Gazette.
I know some of you are cringing right now at my use of “girls.” But, really, a label is only a derogatory epithet when it is used against a group by those outside of it. When it is adopted by the group itself, it becomes both a term of endearment and a declaration of solidarity.
Not that it always works out as planned.
Remember the Dixie Chicks?
They were a successful country band whose members apparently decided that popularity conferred geopolitical wisdom. In 2003, during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, one of them stood before an audience in London and declared, about George W. Bush, that, “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
In turns out the band was merely ahead of the curve on its dislike of the war in Iraq, but Bush at least kept enough of the electorate to win a second term, while the Dixie Chicks were nearly wiped off the country-music map.
Undeterred from their mugging by political reality, band members decided to go full cultural awareness and dropped “Dixie” from their name – you know, the whole “symbols of the Confederacy, we must never speak positively of the South” fit of historical amnesia. If they were truly ashamed of George W. Bush, any hint of being seen through the wrong Civil War lens must have brought on deep self-loathing.
Now, they’re just the Chicks.
And that’s supposed to endear them to music fans?
If “girls” makes you cringe, then “chicks” should make you absolutely crazy. They might as well call themselves gals, broads or dames.
Shouldn’t they really be the Women? Of course, in these days, when Supreme Court nominees are grilled on their transsexual sensitivity, even that term is problematic. The Persons, maybe?
But perhaps I’m wrong, being judgmental as an outside observer of their journey. When those of us at Fort Wayne Newspapers decided to become the girls, after all, we were doing it more for the way we saw ourselves than for how we wanted others to see us.
I did not barge into that group uninvited, just so you know. I was admitted by one of the members with whom I had become friends during our participation in the company’s bowling league.
We had dinner out several times a year, to celebrate Christmas and each other’s birthdays. During those outings, the talk turned, as it inevitably does when members of one sex congregate, to the failings of the other sex. Dinner after dinner, I was treated to complaints about male laziness, male insincerity, male ego and on and on.
The complaints were almost always capped by some version of, “Men are scum,” followed by a quick apologetic sop to me, “Not you, Leo.”
For a while, I was mildly offended. I was admitted to the opposing camp, but only at the price of hearing that my kind was generally not appreciated. But I had also heard enough female-bashing in my male gatherings to finally understand that the other girls were just engaging in much-needed venting while in safe, accepting company. It was indeed a privilege to be included.
Perhaps this is my way forward in our divided times.
White people are untrustworthy; not you, Leo. Libertarians are just fascists in disguise; not you, Leo. Heterosexuals are hateful; not you, Leo. People who pick on the Dixie Chicks are misogynist apologists for racism; not you, Leo.
I was not always a Leo, by the way. I was born Leonard, but I never really cared for the name, so I adopted a nickname in high school – yes, I admit it, both for the way I saw myself and the way I wanted others to see me. I didn’t feel like a Leonard, which seemed a dull and ponderous name – not the sort of person who would become one of the girls. Leo felt cool.
As far as I know, I’m the most famous Leo Morris there is. There once was a very cool Leo Morris much admired in certain music circles as a jazz drummer in New Orleans. But he converted to Islam and changed his name to Idris Muhammad.
Which is worrisome. You never know if someone who adopts a new name for religious reasons is going to be like a Cassius Clay and become the greatest in his field or like a Cat Stevens and say it seems perfectly natural if a jihad is declared against Salman Rushdie.
So I am generally wary of such people.
Not you, Idris.