Saturday, June 28, 2008

Politically Correct

In 1984, James Finn Garner's book of "Politically Correct Bedtime Stories" was published. Titles, professions and ethnicities were gaining finely tuned verbiage and Garner managed to provide a plethora of options while poking fun at the absurdity of not calling the kettle black.

Yet, in real life, a speaker calling out the color of said utensil risks offending: a specific division of the human race; the manufacturer that chose the name "ebony;" and all kettle users that refer to the object's size and purpose rather than color.

Avoiding offensive phrasing is exhausting. Rather than looking at reality and the intent of the speaker, critics conclude that people are racist. People have become so conscious of being criticized they actually avoid any type of descriptive terms. A woman told me of a recent conversation she had with an acquaintance. The acquaintance mentioned a person and to clarify, my friend said, "Was she a black woman?" The acquaintance then said, "We don't refer to people like that." My question then is, how DO you refer to people?

What would happen if a crime victim couldn't use race as a way to describe their assailant?

Officer: "Can you describe the person that robbed the bank?"

Bank Teller: "I believe the person was male, or was dressed as a male. I mean, he, or maybe she, wore a loose fitting flannel shirt and jeans. I think the person had short hair, but maybe not because they were wearing a ball cap and the hair could have been tucked underneath. The person had rough hands from working hard but not all women have smooth hands."

Officer: "Did this person say anything? What kind of voice did they have?"

Bank Teller: "They just handed me a note."

Officer: "What else can you tell me about this person? Were they white? black? Indian?"

Bank Teller: "Well, officer, I'm sorry but I grew up in a home where we didn't use terms like that."

Officer: "Okay - so what terms DID you use?"

Bank Teller: "We only called people by their given names."

Officer: "So you wouldn't happen know the name of the robber would you?"

Bank Teller: "Oh, no, I guess I forgot to ask."

The debate over descriptive nouns continues with media outlets trying to find out what to call Barack Obama. They ask each other if he is black or should be considered mixed-race. One so-called expert classified as "African-American" stated Obama is "mixed."

Personally, I believe he is one of relatively few people that can accurately call themselves "African-American." I was taught that hyphenated ethnicity was used by people that were 1) from another country and settled in a new country; or 2) were born to parents of two different nationalities. So, a person coming from Italy and settling in America could be called "Italian-American" or a dad from Kenya and a mother from America (like Obama's parents) could produce an "African-American" child.

Oddly, the media reflects a public that stakes claims on celebrities. Mariah Carey's mother is a very fair-skinned white woman with blond hair and identified as Irish-American. Her father is Venezuelan and African-American. Yet her music and entourage reflects less diversity, demonstrating her identification as being black-American. Fans of color have been noted to appreciate her blackness while white fans seem to focus on her music. Why she has any fans, I don't know as I detest her random performance of scales and ear-busting high-Cs. I would save that discussion for another blog but I am not sure about wasting any more space on "Mimi."

I can not begin to fathom how people that are generations removed from another country can suddenly begin to claim allegiance to being another nationality. While I am proud that I have Dutch, German, English and American Indian heritages, I don't try to declare any nationality other than being completely "American."

Some would argue that identifying a person by their heritage or skin color is degrading. My belief is we should be able to proudly display who we are, but we should do so with accuracy. Describing ethnicity should be no different than identifying gender, hair length, clothing, height or eye color. Derogatory epithets are unnecessary, but to be "politically" correct, adjectives should have freedom within our vocabulary without fear of oppression.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Business before pleasure?

A recent excursion put me in the fortunate position of meeting a woman that shared many commonalities with me. She is close to my age, a single mother with young adult children and she grew up in the same community as I. Our conversation drifted towards her son's decision to obtain his degree in business administration, find work and his place in society before even considering marriage.

"There are more important things in life than money," she said, adding that her son plans to wait until he is 30 before considering starting a family. I agreed and noted the tendancy of many career-minded adults doing the same thing. She said one of her son's college professors stressed the importance of having financial security before marriage.

While this sounds admirable, we wondered if this generation was dangling on a pendulum that is swinging to a far extreme. I was reminded of a movie I saw recently called "Idiocracy." A bit campy, it seems mindless on the surface but the premise is quite relevant. A man of mediocre intelligence is part of a government experiment in hibernation. A timely accident leaves him in his pod for 500 years. In a montage lasting just a few minutes, the movie shows how educated and career-tracked couples put off marriage and having children. Age and fertility issues obstruct the propagation of future intelligent generations and as a result the world evolves into a populace of moronic baby-machines. When the experimental guinea pig finally awakens, he is lauded as the most intelligent person on the planet.

Business majors are abundant and focus on the bottom line rather than seeing the interconnecting system that creates the red and black ink. Industry and businesses have long abandoned loyalty to employees in favor of high dollar profits for top executives. Stocks, investments, portfolios and interest rates are replacing the family conversations previously focusing on life, love, relationships and dating.

I pointed out that this mass production of business majors is creating a robotic generation that is following popular trend rather than making independent and personal decisions. While my acquaintance had not considered this, she did agree with my observation.

Perhaps these children have witnessed the struggles of their parents and are determined to find a better way of life. Unfortunately, their ideas of betterment may be those of an idealistic society rather than reality and the benefit of finding one's personal best. I would argue that the masses following the path of the often illusive dollar should occasionally look around the trail's side for some of life's free benefits.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Culling the Herd

MuttonChops is not a reference to the large fuzzy swatches of whiskers on each side of Elvis' face. Instead, my reference has more ambiguous meaning and failure to grasp my intent may mean this blog and future posts will require the need of tutelage on your part.

Follow my logic for a moment if you dare ...

Mutton: sheep; flesh of said animal
Chops: cuts apart; breaks up; a specific cut of meat

This then brings me to an even better definition of "sheep"
noun
1. woolly usually horned ruminant mammal related to the goat
2. a timid defenseless simpleton who is readily preyed upon
3. a docile and vulnerable person who would rather follow than make an independent decision; "his students followed him like sheep"
sheep. (n.d.). WordNet® 3.0. Retrieved June 21, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sheep

Now, consider today's masses lacking independent thinkers. People are making major decisions, choosing homes, buying cars, and watching television based on perceived popularity. Advertisers and media fertilize the field and a public of lambs graze without question.

My intent is to stoke synapses in others. Call me the wolf, ripping apart the flock, tearing at the sheep skins; call me a radical; even better, call me a name you think of on your own! You will find I am not always against the popular view because the majority may be correct. Case in point: GW's ratings in polls. We are perfectly capable of seeing the emperor has no clothes and such recognition is not baaaaaad; however, open your eyes to actually see his naked nads before joining the chanting crowd.

I'll be back with more but first I must file my incisors and sharpen the axe blade.