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Perspective: 'Regular people'

"All in the Family" props in the Smithsonian.
RadioFan at English Wikipedia
Wikimedia Commons
"All in the Family" props in the Smithsonian.

People of a certain age will remember the groundbreaking sit-com All in the Family, which featured American popular culture’s most famous bigot, Archie Bunker, memorably played by Carroll O’Connor. When the show began in 1971, Archie represented Nixon’s “silent majority” of perpetually aggrieved Angry Middle-Aged White Guys who were not only disoriented by the various civil rights and anti-war movements of the time, but actively resisting them. Fortunately, most of Archie’s family, friends, and neighbors didn’t share his prejudices and over the course of nine seasons he reconsidered and slowly discarded them.


Many say this show couldn’t be made today. Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean it is irrelevant. In one episode, Archie uses the term “regular people,” a brilliant expression the writers concocted for capturing his thinking (such as it was). Of course, he was referring to people like himself: able-bodied, heterosexual white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.


The term “regular people” implies there is a default human being — who just happens to look, think, and behave like Archie Bunker — and everyone else is a deviation from that (the “anti-woke” mob now use the phrase “real Americans,” which basically means the same thing).


But how often have the rest of us pointed out someone in a crowd or onscreen, or told a story about an encounter, and identified that person by their skin color, disability, or some other immutable characteristic, rather than another visible marker, such as their clothing? When we draw attention to those things, are we not unthinkingly suggesting that they’re not “regular?”


The “regular people” mentality, even when expressed benignly and thoughtlessly, indicates the degree to which white supremacy, in particular, has infected our culture. I pray we can eventually purge it from our minds and speech.


I’m Taylor Atkins, and that’s my perspective.

Taylor Atkins is a history professor at Northern Illinois University.