I took the biology semester of my mandatory science requirement in…I think it was my sophomore year of college. One short quiz was multiple choice, with five questions and five possible answers, not counting "none of the above". One question clearly had A as its answer. One question clearly had D. One question clearly had E. The remaining two questions were ambiguous. Both could correctly be answered with either answer B or C. I answered B for one of the questions and C for the other, and I turned my paper in.
I got them wrong, of course. The correct answer for both was, in fact, "B or C".
One of the worst mistakes I ever made was saying, "White people have no culture" to a Québécois. I mean, really, what was I thinking? We're talking about a group whose provincial motto is "We remember"; a group so attached to specific facets of their national heritage that they're mocked by the rest of their country. I wasn't serious, of course, but that's irrelevant. The very concept is hopelessly, insultingly USA-centric. "Hi! I'm going to spew a thoughtless quip that's only true if you ignore Europe. Aren't I clever?"
It's not the first time I got in trouble over the word. Back in college, in a conversation above my academic caste, I interjected some schmaltzy line about how important it is to experience other cultures. I got raked over the coals for that one. The assemblage turned to me and tasked me with defining "culture". I couldn't, of course. They knew that. The word is ambiguous to the point of meaninglessness. I had said precisely nothing in an effort to sound worldly, and they called me on it. They even trotted out that Hitler quote, "When I hear the word 'culture', I reach for my gun," although it's not his quote in particular (Also, in hindsight, I'm not sure how pointing out similarities to Nazi ideology was supposed to strengthen their position, but that oddity didn't strike me at the time.)
Once everyone was seated, the teacher announced we would be breaking into groups for a special activity and called for volunteers to lead them. Every single boy in the class except me raised his hand. Right there, in front of the class and with curiosity in her voice, she asked me why I didn't volunteer.
I lied to her. I pointed out that she hadn't said what we'd be doing, so I had no idea whether I'd be a good group leader and didn't want to commit to something outside my expertise (though not in those exact words). The truth is that I'd seen her day's schedule on her desk when I wandered the room earlier. I saw she had instructions to hold an exercise looking for volunteer group leaders, and I refused to be her lab rat.
That's all I remember of that encounter itself. I know I wondered afterward what would have happened if I'd told the truth. I wish now that I'd read more of her class plan and learned the goal of the experiment; I'm sure it was well-intentioned whether or not its methodology is questionable today. I wonder, and have for years, whether the answer I gave could have been true or whether it was simply plausible, ultimately no better than a cop-out even in the best circumstance.