Bearded Goats

by Regis Boff

I grew up on one of the many hills that surround the city of Pittsburgh. We were all bigots and racists. Every large ethnic or racial group that lived in Pittsburgh had a hill of its own, the result, I presume, of the national game of musical chairs that has always been played with America’s homesteading immigrants. Our timid masses huddled on the first empty space they could find; whispered to each other in their native languages, and prayed the English language would became decipherable to them in time.

Our uncontaminated little villages stood like bearded goats on these hilltops, each confident that their summit was closer to whatever they believed was above them. There were no hills for women, as they were scattered equally amongst all the hills, and none for gays and lesbians because they did not yet exist.

Class envy of course existed but nobody had very much of that. We were all kind of lower class and fighting about so little would have just proven demoralizing. No, the best playing fields for bias lay in the more fertile arenas of skin color and accent. Anyway, I grew up in a time when snobbishness was a greater offense than bigotry. Go figure. Nowadays conceit is confused with strength and bigotries are like little homicides.

The geography of this youth of mine helped me stumble into at least one important ditch of certainty in my life and it was that groups are meaner than individuals. A person can reason before he makes a mistake and a group cannot.  An individual can pivot and admit an action is wrong whereas a group member can’t because he has to be afraid of his friends. There was no one to show this to me when I was a child. Adolescence is a desperate time and hurting someone who is weaker or different is reassuring to a group of kids who are frantic for acceptance. Parents are encouraged to promote their child’s socialization into the greater group, and that it is a serious triumph, but then scratch their heads when their kids are caught doing what they taught them to do, despising the different.