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JULY 2, 2009 10:04AM

What's Wrong with Political Correctness?

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Like welfare queens and trickle down economics, political correctness is the canard that keeps on giving. Fifteen years after Politically Correct Bedtime Stories topped the New York Times best-seller list, the American obsession with making fun of political correctness continues unabated on websites like Stuff White People Like and TV shows such as 30 Rock. Cracks about political correctness are now as tired and outdated as mother-in-law jokes so could we please give it a rest already? 

When it comes right down to it, political correctness is just good manners yet we Americans are acting like spoiled little brats who refuse to say please and thank you. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, people of color with a preference would rather be called African-Americans by an almost two-to-one margin. So why do so many whites insist on saying blacks?  We already pretend Snoop Dogg is cool a decade after Fo Shizzel passed its expiration date so what's an extra five syllables going to hurt if it improves race relations?  And yes, I would write European-Americans instead of whites if there were a similar groundswell of support for that term.

Yet to listen to whites tell it, you would think African-Americans are asking for reparations when all they want is to be known for something more than their skin color.  We stopped calling Asians yellow people decades ago yet we persist in labeling African-Americans as blacks. What gives? The only time I hear whites use the term is sarcastically, as in "What do they call themselves nowadays? Oh yeah, AF-ro Americans".  I could understand this sarcasm if we're discussing Marshall Mathers, who goes by either Eminem or Slim Shady depending on his mood and the time of day. But for the previous 40 years, black was the accepted term and today it is African-American. Now really, how hard is that to keep straight in one's head? Enough with the snideness.

And while we're at it, how come--in a nation in which 70 million of us are either illiterate or functionally illiterate--do we all suddenly become experts in etymology where the word niggardly is concerned?  Would we insist on using it if, like a naughty schoolboy, we didn't derive some guilty pleasure from being able to say a word that sounds so similar to the "n" word in casual conversation?

The most famous controversy occurred in 1999 when a white aide to Washington D.C. African-American mayor Anthony A. Williams used it in a budget meeting.  Michael Myers of the New York Post wrote of Howard's African-American colleagues offended by his use of the word: “STUPIDITY has no color, but ignorance sure is transparent.”

Frankly, I think the offended African-American aides were the only ones who displayed any intelligence throughout this entire affair.  Allow me to tell a story from my own high school days. Our English teacher assigned us to read Oliver Twist then asked after we finished our reading, what secret we discovered about Oliver at the end of the novel. Naturally, I raised my hand and answered "He was a bastard" to the delight of my peers.  Technically, he was a bastard but that usage of the word is archaic today and we use illegitimate instead. The same concept applies to niggardly: it is archaic and synonyms like stingy and miserly convey the same meaning so why use it unless you're deliberately trying to get a rise out of your audience?

I've spent a lot of years in college and whenever the topic of Affirmative Action is brought up in class the general consensus amongst the white students is it puts a lot of unqualified African-Americans in high places.  

It does not take a major leap of logic to think David Howard considered himself smarter than his fellow African-American aides, who he probably assumed got where they were because of Affirmative Action, and he wanted to prove it by using a word that sounded provocative in the hopes of creating a cause celebre which he could weasel out of by pointing to the dictionary. I think the aides were perceptive enough to know what was going on and that's why they objected.

The problems we have with political correctness are based on perception, not reality. Using terms like African-Americans and physically challenged are no more onerous than a simple please and thank you. And as for niggardly, there are over one million words in the English language. Is sacrificing one to curb misunderstandings really that much of an inconvenience?

 

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When someone tells me they are African-American I always ask "What part of Africa are you from?"

I get no answer.

BTW, can I call myself German-American or is that too over the top?
What term do they use in Canada? African-Canadian?
Blackflon: They couldn't very well give you an answer since the vast majority of African-Americans were brought here against their will hundreds of years ago. I highly doubt their slavemasters kept accurate records about what parts of Africa their slaves came from.
Mad_Typist: Considering Canada is part of the North American continent, I would think African-American would be acceptable up there as well.

I mainly object to white folks getting their panties in a bind over a few extra syllables. It's really not that big of a deal when you stop to think about it.
Good writing Rob. You may look squirlish, but you don't write that way.

You can carry this discussion much further than the contemporary language regarding "race." It applies to "fashionable" thinking in general, as opposed to thinking that at least makes the effort and takes the risk of saying something more than please a majority, or entrenched "minority" that may or may not represent an advance rather than a regression in thinking.

PC is why, for instance, you will rarely find a politician who can be counted on to add much to the cultural discussion because their purpose is to curry votes and "not offend." And PC is what provides writers, commedians, and wits (George Carlin was a wit in my view) their place. While we have to kiss ass if anybody is going to read us, we don't have to kiss ass so much--until the "enforcers" discover us and say it is not nice to say fuck, etc.

I just had this happen here on OS--so they are everywhere.
"When it comes right down to it, political correctness is just good manners yet we Americans are acting like spoiled little brats who refuse to say please and thank you. "

Jesus god, yes.
"Political correctness is good manners"? PULEEEEEEEEZE!!!
I will admit, however, I did once giggle madly reading a freshman personal experience essay about visiting England.

She was very surprised at how many African-American Brits there are.

:-)
You say "When it comes right down to it, political correctness is just good manners ..."

I disagree. It is an attempt to control the speech, the thoughts, and the activities of others. The term originated in Mao Zedong's Little Red Book. To be politically incorrect meant contradicting Marxism and Maoism, which led to jail or even execution. It was used as a method of suppressing religious freedom. It was resurrected in the US in the 1980s..

It is, plain and simply, censorship. I fail to see how anyone who truly understands the concept of freedom of speech and freedom of the press can support such an invidious ideology.
Good manners AND common decency. A thing I'm noticing is a wee bit short here in the comments. Is it just me, or has someone descended to blowing raspberries instead of dialoguing?

Well-said, Travis. Thanks for this.
Wayne Gallant: I don't buy into your slippery slope arguments. They remind me of the right wing predicting we'll have gas chambers here in the states after Roe v. Wade passed. It's been 35 years and I'm still waiting . . .

Polls show people of color prefer the term African-American so why not respect their opinion? It's common courtesy.

People stopped using terms like Negro and Jap of their own accord, not because of some government diktat.

AshKW: It's even worse on sites like Yahoo Answers whenever this topic comes up. You get a lot of white people presuming they can speak for African-Americans without even taking a glance at the polling data.
Great piece. Bill Bryson writes a good bit about this same issue in his wonderful book "Made in America." The book is worth reading for that bit alone.
mabinogi: I've read all of Bill Bryson's work but I'll have to check out Made In America again. Don't remember that bit although the opening line about Iowa being the asshole of America is unforgettable.
Political correctness comes in many forms. Certainly, the part that is just plain good manners - such as calling people what they would prefer to be called - is innocuous, even desirable.
Then there is the plain silly side. A borough council in the London area (Islington I think) once had a notice posted in the canteen telling the staff that since "black" was a word with political and social overtones, they should not order their coffee black or white, but with or without milk. One council worker responded by putting in a requisition for two dozen ballpoint pens, "without milk".
"It does not take a major leap of logic to think David Howard considered himself smarter than his fellow African-American aides, who he probably assumed got where they were because of Affirmative Action,"

Actually, I think that's a tremendous leap of logic.

But I will agree with your other point that we should address people as they would like to be addressed.
Interesting topic. The whole PC movement has gotten twisted and misrepresented and misunderstood.

My original understanding was that it was all about getting people to take responsibility for their word choices, and to recognize that calling someone a nasty name actually harms them, as it perpetuates disrespect and mistreatment of both individuals and groups. It was never supposed to be about forcing people to say one thing or another. It was supposed to be about raising awareness about the harm language can do, and the personal responsibility we bear when we choose the words we use to address people and/or talk about them. It's not really about an individual who feels hurt or offended, it is about changing the way all of us think about each other, the way we speak to each other, the way we treat each other, all of which are interconnected.
Travis, not sure if it's clear from my comment, but I actually agree with your point. I think my comment was more in response to some of the negative comments here - and the general misunderstanding of PC movement in US.
Maybe David Howard used the word niggardly because that is what he meant. You assume an awful lot about his intentions. I don't know either way -- and neither do you -- but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Your example of bastard as a parallel doesn't work. Many words have two meanings -- niggardly only has one no matter how you try to spin it.
I do so agree with you that much of political correctness is a form of courtesy. But I also find the comments on here good, clever, and fair! You all make good points and no one should get bent out of shape. Personally, I think if the term "Blacks" has been discarded (for lack of a better word), then soon "African Americans" will be discarded, and a new term will come into favor. Just the same way "mentally retarded" was replaced with "challenged", or "Mongoloid" was replaced with "Down's Syndrome". Once a word takes on a meaning that is tainted, it will be discarded in favor of another, which itself will be set aside. That's the evolution of language and culture. It's not a big deal.
Conservatives once used the term "politically correct" very frequently in an effort to marginalize and mock people who criticized them for "telling it like it is". To me, that's what those words imply.

But of course it can go both ways. So Sarah Palin, to me, is too PC for getting mad at David Letterman, and the whole thing was phony because she deliberatly twisted it just to act indignant about something she didn't like. The feeling I got from that was the inspiration for my last blog post.
Thanks for this- I've been thinking about the backlash to political correctness recently and how ridiculous it is.

I hope the next African-American person who's asked by Blackflon to identify their African region of origin punches him in the face.
" . . . all they want is to be known for something more than their skin color."

Well, they aren't really "black" either, in the same way that I'm not really "white." I mean, if I stood naked in front of a white board it's not like the top half of me would suddenly disappear. In that sense I am also one of the "people of color." And yesterday I bought "jeans of blue." And the president lives in the House of White.

Most "African" Americans are about as African as I am. Technically, I suppose I'm an "English-American," but I'm about as English as Jesse Jackson is.

This is interesting:

"Using terms like African-Americans and physically challenged are no more onerous than a simple please and thank you."

Yeah, "physically challenged." My knees are shot to hell. I wear braces on both legs and take narcotics four times a day. I'm not physically challenged. I'm fucking crippled. It's no fun being crippled, but it is what it is, and it doesn't make it any better to call it by some other name. And if it gets bad enough I'll end up disabled, but I'm not going to call it "differentially abled" as if I had some cool alternate ability that other people don't (except for the "ability" to get a legal prescription for morphine every month. Not everyone can do that.)

I just think this whole identity thing is silly. It's simply a way of splitting us all up into little sub-cultures when what we should be focused on is who we are together rather than who we are separately.

If I meet someone in person who'll have a stroke if I don't call him "African-American," sure, I'll play along with the game, but other than that he's black and I'm white, even though neither of us are really either.
Political correctness as a term is a chinese construct. How about just human decency? Blackfon, I don't know where you ask black folks that question, but I know it isn't East Oakland! Coward.

Interesting to read a white's writing and see them acknowledge what we all know, that they are talking shit behind our darker brothers and sisters backs and, without exception, are fucking cowards who would never, and could never, say these things in mixed company.

FU Haters!
Emma,

Are you working hard to be the first female Grand Dragon of the KKK? Nothing else explains your behavior. Coward. Hater.
@Oahusurfer: You are the one calling a stranger names. I think that speaks for itself. My issue is with the word niggardly. Nothing else.
It's very easy to trash Political Correctness, and I've certainly ridiculed some of the more outlandish neologisms myself (although I suspect that terms like "vertically challenged" for" short" and "horizontally challenged" for "impotent" are really spoofs). Even so, calling it "thought control" is dishonest. The point of PC language seems to be that people have a right to be addressed the way they want to be addressed, in other words, people should have the right to define themselves and not be defined by thoughtless others. It's the difference between being called "boy" versus "sir" taken to the next level. Yes, the results may sound feckless and downright silly in some cases, but I suspect that the language will eventually correct itself in due time. Given a choice, I'd sooner err on the side of politeness than churlishness.
@Blackflon
>>When someone tells me they are African-American I always ask "What part of Africa are you from?"
I get no answer.
Thats right emma- YOU ARE A COWARD! What fucking bullshit to use a word that charged, with death and torture, as if it was just another form of miser. Canadians, while in my experience very nice as a group, are for the most part lily-white and isolated, what else could explain your ignorance -- head down to a Raptor game and let fly with your "not insulting word"- Coward.
I think the hypothetical African-American should throw this impertinent question right back at you, pointing out that the whites steered the ships and possessed the maps...

If you choose to call yourself German-American, are you willing to start speaking fluent German if challenged to do so? If you are, more power to you. If not, I wouldn't brag about it.

Two embarrassing and unnecessary situations that can be prevented by some common courtesy (sometimes misleadingly referred to as PC).
Niggardly was a word in existence long before the "n" word. Its meaning has nothing to do with death and torture. No one who has ever met me has ever called me a coward. Quite the opposite in fact.

If people who are ignorant about the English language attend Raptor games, it's up to them to learn otherwise. As for my being Canadian, I've travelled all over the world, hell, I've even lived in the United States. California to be precise. I am a respectful person, but again, my personal characteristics have nothing to do with the word being discussed, a word which I rarely use in any case.
Your "politically correct" is likely to be highly offensive to someone else.
BS Emma, you are a lying coward who, confronted with reality, prefers to sit in a protected box and pretend.
Love this Travis...you're on a roll!
@Oahusurfer: Considering all the injustices still being heaped on people of colour, does it ever occur to you that perhaps you are fighting the wrong battles? That maybe your passion for spinning old English words to contain modern-day racism is the least of what you should be doing? Just a thought.
Oahusurfer: If you read a lot of British literature, "niggardly" is really prevalent--perhaps/probably more in the 18th/19th/early 20th than now--in writers who were stongly supportive of, involved in, the abolitionist movement. It's meaning--tightness, withholding--is about opposite to the sense usually ascribed by rascists to black people--which usually had everything to do with excess sexuality, appetite, stupidity, etc.

No one here should back down to a Raptor's fan, all too interested in war to finesse out who might just in fact be most worthy as a friend.
Oahusurfer, I essentially said the same thing as Emma in my comment, so I take issue with your attacks against her. You are really crossing a line here. (Not that Emma needs my help - she's certainly holding her own.)
No Emma as I don't live in a fantasy world. Others suffering is as obvious as African Americans struggles with achieving equality in a country full of racist crackers. And, like it or not, a good percent of modern suffering is the residue of the White Man's Burden.

So, to answer you NO. And, again, your argument is cowardice. I repeat, head down to Toronto, go to a Raptors game, and start telling the African Canadians all about how N-gardly the owner is for not paying them more!
Is there a canonical list published somewhere of Words People Are Not Allowed To Say Anymore? If so, who is responsible for updating and publishing such a list? How does one submit a word for inclusion?

If anyone is aware of such a list, I'd really like to see it, so as to keep up to date. I'd hate to ruin my life by being the guy who used a word that was no longer deemed to be acceptable.
Jeannete,

So, you are condoning use of the N-gardly word? Try it in mixed company, coward #2.
White folks is just fascinating. Sticking up for each other to use a word connating 400 years of hate, chains, torture and rape followed by Jim Crow, KKK, lynching as a sport, voter suppression ad nauseum, all because some ancient dictionary says otherwise.

Ivory Tower must be nice. Cowards.
Travis, great piece. I'm not going to weigh in on niggardly. I don't use it often, because I think it breeds confusion, although I think Emma has a point that the word has a more complex etymology than people realize. But I think that your point is a good one. At some point sensitivity got labelled "political correctness" as a way of mocking and dis-empowering people.

As for African Canadians. While there were some Canadians brought over here as slaves, there aren't enough for us to really invent a category that reflects that kind of geneaology. There are a fair number of slaves who escaped to Canada, and I suppose they might want to be identified as African-Americans. But in Canada it's so complex, because you have the carribean Canadians, the African-Quebecois. Here we have the language politics and division, on top of the racial ones. And because the origins of black Canadians are SO diverse, if they reject the category of "black", it's harder for them to organize over issues of race. I think the politically correct thing to do in Canada would be to refer to the person by their origins, if there's some reason to. And refer to that person as a "visible minority," if there's a reason to. Does that make any sense?
Patrick,

Big words from a little man ... don't you mean the same English who were shipping slaves all over the world while they "further developed their vocabulary" Welcome to the Coward Club Patty.
Juliette,

Don't use it often? Once makes you a coward racist, and an ignorant live in an Ivory Tower elitist.
No Oahusurfer, I said those involved in the abolitionist movement. Be literate--this is a salon, not a Raptor's game.
Oahusurfer, are you here to fight, or to be persuasive? If you are here because you believe you have valid points to make which might prove persuasive to other people, you may find such an effort more effective without the constant personal insults. OTOH, if you are just here to fight, carry on.
Messenger,

To use the word canon while debating PC is most likely a Freudian slip considering the "canon" of ecumenical (term used very loosely when dealing with the Harlot) councils is EXACTLY the lies and false construct used to keep the N-gardlies down in their place. How to know if its on the Don't Use list?-- Very simple, either you can say it front of the N-gardlies themselves, or other groups lumped in by "canonites", including Hawaiians, or YOU CAN"T.

Very simple acid test, everything else is Ivory Tower BS from all book no life white folks.
People use "please" and "thank you"?

Seriously?
Patrick, BS- you are just an apologist, nothing more, hiding behind the crimes of European history. A joke.

Lorelei, we fight when we have to, only for our rights, Hawaiians, often called the N-word over time, and decimated and robbed of everything by whites, have similar bones to pick as those of African Ancestry. So, if your land was stolen, your family punished for speaking your language, etc. you wouldn't sit around and waste time with so called intellectuals who are really Ivory Tower elitist racists hiding behind their so called education.

If you think this is my fight, again you are isolated from reality.

I say it again, if you can't say it in Oakland or Detroit, or Waianae, then DONT SAY IT, unless you are proud of your cowardice, ignorance and prejudice.
Ahem, I guess I should've read the comments before posting mine.
I would only like to point out that the real ivory tower elitist's are the real problem.

Fighting amongst ourselves only serves to keep them happy and in power.
A Jamaican born, American bred friend explained it this way- Afro-American refers to the descendants of slaves primarily, and black as a label is more inclusive.

From what I gather, black is still an acceptable term in Canada, maybe because there's a relatively higher percentage of Carribean immigrants. I've heard Afro-Canadian once or twice, but can't even imagine the use of the word Afro-American for a Canadian citizen
Oahusurfer, you are the Rosann Rosanna Danna of OS. Congrats.

BTW, I used to live in East Oakland, and I really don't appreciate your implication that white people should be afraid to go there. In fact I find it kind of racist.

Also, question for you, based on your own words: So, since your land was stolen, your family punished for speaking your language, etc. why are you sitting around and wasting time fighting with so called intellectuals who are really Ivory Tower elitist racists hiding behind their so called education?

But also, I got news for ya, buddy, those intellectuals you so like to disdain have taught many of the little white children of America all about racism, imperialism, and colonialism. (hint: look up Cornel West) They have their role to play, too. Everyone does. Even you.
Lorelei,

You used to live in East Oakland, and you defend the use of the N-gardly word by those fully and completely insulated from the black experience? Fascinating.

You haven't read my comments, and I don't blame you, however, I have consistently said that East Oakland residents, as a group, are some of the most approachable and friendly people you will ever meet- but just try to tell a tigh-fisted one he or she is N-gardly ... really Lorelei, I mean, if you truly know Seminary, Lockwood or Westmont as you say (my hunch is you just went to Mills) then of course you are just jumping on the aplogist bandwagon.
To All Here who have a problem with pc: the lecture begins-

Lorelei writes:

"Also, question for you, based on your own words: So, since your land was stolen, your family punished for speaking your language, etc. why are you sitting around and wasting time fighting with so called intellectuals who are really Ivory Tower elitist racists hiding behind their so called education?"

Answer, despite the obvious sarcasm- to educate you fools ... before you offend someone to your own detriment.

As to sitting around, that we Hawaiians are not. Despite being told it was impossible we have restored some of our stolen land, Re-directed illegitimate profits from stolen lands to help re-establish our legitimate government, fought for, and received a US presidential apology for the illegal overthrow, put billions of OUR OWN HAWAIIAN CROWN money into educating our own children, not just in western ways either, put the Hawaii State on notice no more injustice will be tolerated, built Hawaiian Homestead homes, on our land, with our money, for our Kupuna, the list, and the struggle goes on, but we do not slow down We Insist on Reparations- something I am entirely for for African Americans- whose forefathers were promised, and had stolen from THEM 40 acres and a mule.

Come to Hawaii, come down to one of our demonstrations at OUR palace, and, I know you will not have the guts to say jack shit to our faces if the truth hurts so much you can't stomach its poor refelection on Manifest Destiny.

Again, its the acid test, I double dog dare anyone to come down to Iolani Palace and tell us all about how being PC and respecting our culture, history and rights, and those of African Americans is intellectually dishonest.

Yeah, like that would happen.
GeeBee: I'm not sure how things are in the UK but here in the States the right wing tends to either plant or outright make up stories such as those. It's hard to separate the reality from the urban legends here.

Lorelei: I appreciate your remark about the origins of the pc movement here in the States.

DCVdickens: You make a good point about the evolution of language. For instance, NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People because that was the politically correct term in 1909. But since then, the correct term has evolved from coloreds to negros to blacks and now to African-Americans. It's Darwinian and nothing to get up in arms about.

Jocelyn: You're right. Republicans are all for political correctness when it suits their needs!
Gggarrrggh.. I like Blackflon. He make good point. Trravis Dar'by is stoopid.
Emma_Peel: I consider niggardly a racial code word on par with welfare queen. Do you not find it just a little bit suspicious how vociferously right wingers defend the use of such an archaic word?

This sentence you wrote "If people who are ignorant about the English language attend Raptor games, it's up to them to learn otherwise" distorts the issue. There are literally a million words in the English language. Not being able to define a word that's been out of common circulation for a century does not make one ignorant.

But here's the true litmus test: would you feel comfortable saying niggardly in racially mixed company?
Juliet_Waters: I agree about niggardly creating confusion. It's sounds too similar to the n word to be about anything other than sophomoric humour today. Here's a quote from the Wikipedia Page on niggardly:

"The word's new lease of life is probably among manufacturers and retailers of sophomoric humor", wrote John Derbyshire, a conservative commentator, in 2002. "I bet that even as I write, some adolescent boys, in the stairwell of some high school somewhere in America, are accusing each other of being niggardly, and sniggering at their own outrageous wit. I bet ... Wait a minute. 'Sniggering'? Oh, my God...."

I got your point about how to refer to people of color in Canada.
"But here's the true litmus test: would you feel comfortable saying niggardly in racially mixed company?"

I wouldn't feel comfortable, no. However, that doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with the word, or that the people who object to it are right. Those are objective facts.
Janette D.-

yet another hypocrite, and chickenshit.
Oahu, you have nothing to say to me that is of any use, to me or to the world at large. Please stop talking to me.
Kiss Off Janette,

Your kind of ignorance will not go without notice.

Can't see your own cowardice? Then it goes right back in your face.

Its really ez to avoid, stop saying racial slurs are OK because of some out-of-date dictionary created by White Supremecists and you won't get any quarrel from me.
Wow. Are you kidding? In a country where apparently 70 million of us are subliterate in some way, we should refrain from using words like "niggardly"? What about taking the opposite approach - those with substantial vocabularies, who value the language, flaunt their pleasure in synonyms and literacy? What about the possibility that the speaker, obviously not one of the 70 million, used a specific word because it was sitting right there in his vocabulary! And maybe he hadn't "cleansed" his vocabulary of all potentially inflammatory words, in particular not those words that have no inflammatory meaning. And you don't actually have to be an etymologist to know the innocuousness of the word. But by all means, let's dumb down further. It's worked so far. Gd knows the lowest common denominator isn't nearly low enough.
With you, moray70. Niggardly is rarely used, but when it is, it is because it captures a characteristic, an assemblage of characteristics, of history, more accurately than another word would. It has its own flavour, which again smacks of British penance; angry, punishment-worthy restraint; sinful, selfish neglect; and not the least bit of slaves in chains. When the recipe requires cardamom, you don't add extra salt.
Political correctness is a mental strait-jacket. We cannot say, or think, that integration has destroyed the US public school system. Since we can say or think of the proximate cause of the problem, we cannot effectively deal with it. The consequences of political correctness have been devastating to the US.

Or, another example, we cannot say or think that all five governors of the Federal Reserve Board, at the time of the great crash and swindle, were all Jews. So, since we cannot say or think of the factors influencing the economic crisis, we cannot respond effectively.

This ones for fun. We cannot say or think that Alan Greenspan, one of the prime architects of the crash, took is oath of office as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve board, by swearing on not the Bible, but the Talmud. It would be very politically incorrect to point that out, wouldn't it.

As for niggardly, I don't know about the theory, but I wouldn't use it in East Oakland on a bet.
@Travis:
"I consider niggardly a racial code word on par with welfare queen. Do you not find it just a little bit suspicious how vociferously right wingers defend the use of such an archaic word?"

Where I live, welfare queen could mean a woman of any colour, including mine. I wouldn't use that term anyway, since I support the welfare system on principal. Your argument simply does not bear scrutiny. And I am about as far from right wing as it is possible to be without being a member of the Communist Party.

"This sentence you wrote "If people who are ignorant about the English language attend Raptor games, it's up to them to learn otherwise" distorts the issue. There are literally a million words in the English language. Not being able to define a word that's been out of common circulation for a century does not make one ignorant."

As someone who's make their living with words as a writer and a teacher, I respectfully disagree. Anyone who reads books should be familiar with the word. It is not that uncommon and we're only 9 years away from the 20th century. It's been my life's work to celebrate language and to encourage reading. Deciding that people who don't read have a right to determine the words that those of us who do get to use is a very scary thought. It's a race to the bottom that is already well underway, but I'm damned if I'll help grease the slopes of illiteracy.

"But here's the true litmus test: would you feel comfortable saying niggardly in racially mixed company?"

As I've already said, it's not a word I use that often in speech, although I have used it in writing. But yes, I would feel comfortable in saying it in racially mixed compnay because there is nothing racist about the word, or the context in which I would be using it since I am not a racist.

I taught today and I took an informal poll. My classes and the school where I teach is multi-cultural. I asked my class, which includes people of Asian, Caribbean, Caucasian, East Indian, Hispanic and African heritage, many new immigrants but not all, if the word niggardly offended them. Not one was offended, although a few didn't know what it meant. When I told them, and then said that some people feel it is a racist term, they were surprised. And who was the most surprised? The two students from the Carribean. One said: "Those people don't have enough to do, mon."

As I mentioned before, I do think there are words that have passed their sell-by date, but niggardly isn't one of them.
I would also add that if you were a personal friend of mine and asked me not to use the word niggardly around you because it made you feel uncomfortable, I would respect your wishes out of friendship even if I disagreed with you in principle.
Travis, I think that you say it all in this phrase, "When it comes right down to it, political correctness is just good manners..."

The poll that you cite is good to know about. It suggests that the language isn't "in transition" on this point anymore. (A couple of my friends still prefer the term black, btw).

The question of identity is a tricky one, and I think will be until we truly work out all of our "isms". While I usually write LGBT to refer to "my folks", for a number of reasons (political, views on assimilation, etc.) I identify as "queer." However, my ex absolutely hates the term, even though it is now widely used in the Bay Area. I also have a friend who prefers to be referred to as American Indian vs. Native American or indigenous for political reasons.

About the word "niggardly," it is interesting that some white people defend its use but still feel uncomfortable using it. I would suggest that, regardless of its origins, those of us who grew up in the U.S. with all of our horrible history know, in our heart of hearts, that it is a racially loaded term (just as with the phrase "pot calling the kettle black").

Oh, and I have to ditto Stellaa on that whole "too hip to care" thing...

Anyway, thank you for this post. I am glad that you received an EP.
@Emma, I respect what you are saying as a Canadian- as someone who grew up in Texas, where 1970's textbooks still suggested that most slaves were "treated kindly by their masters", I think that the history in the U.S. makes the use of all of these terms much more complex.
"About the word "niggardly," it is interesting that some white people defend its use but still feel uncomfortable using it."

My discomfort stems from the fact that I would most likely be called a racist if I uttered that word. Not something that I would relish, especially as it would be an unfair and untrue assumption. (It's funny that some people are assuming the worst about the man who used the word in a perfectly legitimate way in 1999, including the man's own colleagues. And yet, none of those people are faulted for assuming the worst about a person with no proof that he intended anything offensive.)

"that it is a racially loaded term (just as with the phrase "pot calling the kettle black"). "

That's one I didn't know had to be stricken as well.
You really stirred it up, didn't you?

I don't see the problem in calling people what they want to be called. It is only mannerly. Manners makes for civilized interaction among people.
Jeanette, I am not assuming racism on the part of people who use the word (btw, my partner, who like Oahusurfer, is Hawaiian, is actually in partial agreement with you on this). It is clear that, rightly or wrongly, for many people the word carries a lot of baggage. So why use a term that is hurtful to so many people? Particularly when stingy or miserly (probably more equivalent) will do just as well?
Political correctness always seemed like a way to get people to think about how their words and actions continued to hurt and marginalize people, and I try to abide by how people want to be addressed. It is a matter of respect.

On the other hand, I have a very cool and wonderful friend who has no biases I have seen in the past 25 years of knowing him. He has been in and out of all kinds of communities, has friends of all kinds, various ethnic/racial groups, gay and lesbian groups, jazz musicians, porn and S&M people, drug people, foodies, etc. I don't think there is a biased brain cell in his clever and curious head. He just loves it all. And he is disarming with his fake political incorrectness. He knows lots of people, and they all know him. There is no loss of respect there, and it's one big joke among them.

So we establish respect with political correctness, and when we all understand and accept each other, that stuff can be dropped in favor of deeper individual understanding and discussion.
I think there's a not-so-clear-cut line between political correctness and manners. On aspect of political correctness is the idea that one policy is the "right" policy and criticizing it suggests you are a racist. Affirmative Action is one such policy.

There's also the 'hipper-than-thou' aspect of political correctness which had me being told that black was wrong, Afro-American was the term to use, a few years later, Afro-American was somehow insulting and Person of Color was the right term. No much later, it turned out that few "People of Color" actually wanted to be know by the term. So, black came back in. When African-American came back, it was hard for me to see why it was the right term, if Afro-American had been wrong. After the "People of Color" debacle, I wasn't sure that African-American wasn't just another white effort to be hipper-than-thou and paternalistically solve the term debate on behalf of the Black/Afro/African-American/People of color because they didn't trust them to solve it themselves.
The other problem with African-American is that it applies solely to Americans. I live overseas and my kids go to an overseas school with kids from about 50 different countries. There aren't many black students or staff, but some of them are African, full stop, some European, some American, and some Russian. If you said, say, African-Russian, people would assume you meant someone with one parent from Africa and one from Russia, as opposed to a Russian with visible African ancestry but no ties to Africa.

I hate the term black, because it assumes race is a black and white affair, polar opposites, but it works for citizens of every country.

To my kids, I tend to say, 'some African ancestry' because their environment has little discrimination and I hope race is a non-issue.
I'm with Emma, I learned the word Niggardly in 18th and 19th century English novels. In the liberal town where I grew up, the N-word was so unacceptable that even sniggering schoolboys didn't use it. I never connected the two and was shocked to learn that a word in my vocabulary (albeit rarely used) was a racist insult.

And it doesn't add to my fondness for political correctness to have someone tell me if I used the word, it had to have conscious or unconscious racist overtones.
Travis

An interesting and thought-provoking post you've written.

I remember reading about the "niggardly" incident at the time it happened and I was astonished that anyone could take offense because the word has nothing to do with the notorious (and odious) N word.

However, your post has given me a different perspective. I think the issue is that while the definition of the word is (in itself) innocuous, the way it sounds is simply too close to another word that very understandably provokes intense emotions. I also see merit in your argument that use of a word like “niggardly” can be a thinly veiled attempt to needle POC. However, it’s debatable that this was the intention in the example you used. We simply don’t have enough information to make that assumption.

With respect to your contention that political correctness is akin to good manners – I agree. Lorelei took it a step further by pointing out that being politically correct is a way for us to think about the impact of our words and to take personal responsibility. I think that is an excellent point and one she very eloquently explained in her comment.

As a South African, I was always puzzled that African-Americans want to be referred to as such. I always thought of them simply as Americans. I am equally puzzled by other hyphen-Americans (Irish-American, Italian-American, etc.) The use of the term African-American is sometimes derided here and I think that stems from our weariness at constantly being lumped together as Africa, as if its one big country, instead of a continent of many nations.

But in reading more and in listening to African-Americans speak about this topic, I realised that firstly, their use of the term is in no way an attempt to lump all African countries together. Secondly, slavery robbed African-Americans of much of their knowledge about their African roots. In the Western Cape many Coloureds (in SA this refers to people of “mixed race”) are descendants of slaves - from the rest of Africa and some South Asian countries - so I understand the need to know and connect with one’s roots.

In summary: it takes so little effort to respect African-Americans’ wish to be referred to as such. It also takes little effort to keep in mind that there are certain words that, through no fault of their own, have taken on unpleasant connotations for a particular group of people. A little respect and empathy can go a long way.
The problem I've always had with "Black" and "White" is that it sets up a polarity. I've never liked polarities as they suggest oppositeness.
First, mishima666 has revealed that this is a very misleading post; as it refers to only appoximately one-third of the total respondents who had a preference. Only 24% of those who participated in the cited poll preferred “African-American” to “black”. Approximately two thirds of the respondents had NO preference, and another 13 % preferred “black” to African-American. So, in fact, those who prefered “African-American” fell into a very small minority of less than ¼ of those responding to the poll.

Regarding the history of the term “politically correct” or “political correctness”, here are some interesting tid-bits from Wilipedia.

“During the First World War, British Ministry of Information official Arnold Bennett used the expression politically correct in vetting language for ‘appropriateness’.”

“Since its 1949 founding, the People’s Republic of China banned religions, and allowed only Marxism and Maoism as the politically correct belief systems, thus, being politically incorrect — to contradict Marxism and Maoism — might lead either to jail or to death, or to both.”

“In the 1990s, the US Right used the term political correctness as a straw man in challenging the legal validity of leftist social change — especially about legal equality in matters of societal race relations, religion (Church–State separation), and gender.”

“The earliest citation is not politically correct, found in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), denoting that the statement under judgement is literally incorrect, as understood in the eighteenth-century US…”


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Rick, while I think that the point would have been better made had Travis posted the poll figures, I don't think that negates the primary point of the post - manners matter.

Yes, the majority of people who responded had no preference as to whether they were referred to as African American or black. However, the fact of the matter is that the majority of those who do care prefer the term African American.

Knowing that, why not be safe rather than sorry? When we are still trying to figure out how to get along in a multi-cultural world - let's face it, most folks our age "stick to our own" - these things matter. In another generation or two, I hope that language won't carry quite the same weight/baggage that it does now.
The terms "black people" and "white people" are relics of an era where nearly everyone in the US were either of Northern European or West African ancestry!

The terms "black people" or "white people" to refer to African-Americans and Europeans-Americans doesn't take into account the following

1) the people of South Asia, Micronesia, Melanesia as well as the Australian Aborigines have skin that is just as black as Africans. In fact, many South Asians, Micronesians, Melanesians and Aborigines are DARKER than many African-Americans!

2) Some of the people in places like Japan or Korea have skin that is just as white as Europeans. In fact, I've seen many East Asians whose skins are LIGHTER than your average European-Americans

3) You sometimes hear Latinos talk about "Brown Pride". But when we're talking about "brown people", who are we talking about? A lot of the people of Mexico, Middle East, Polynesia and Southeast Asia have brown skins!

So now that our country has mega-dark people from Sri Lanka and Nigeria, mega-light people from Japan and Russia, and brown-skinned people from Egypt, Mexico and Tonga, we might as well as just refer to people's ethnicity based on where their ancestors are from!

Therefore, the words "African-American", "European-Americans", "Asian-Americans", etc, etc.
WOW...I'm sorry I'm getting here so late. Great post and even better examples you've used. I completely agree and have often said that political correctness was simply a formal way to ask people to put themselves in other people's shoes. But, as we all know, that is difficult. Since most people choose the easy path over the difficult one, they come up with all kinds of excuses not to do it and to ease their minds about it.

Thanks you Travis for an inspired, passionate post that I'm afraid will fall on deaf ears...ears that are purposefully deafened. Unfortunately, your passion and the values behind them are not more powerful than the wall built by ignorance and laziness. They'll simply ask, again, "What's next?" and use that as their reason for doing none of it. I only had to read the first two comments to prove this point. However, as I've said before we need people like you and remember winning is not the goal, continuing to fight is.
What a disgusting bunch of cowards.

I truly cannot believe most of you have University degrees.

This word, regardless of legacy, is POISON.

Cowards like Emma, hiding behind a keyboard and creating Red Herrings in the great WHITE north are the sad, sad sound of ignorance and a complete lack of understanding in the face of DWB, etc. Just plain stupidity with an attitude. You sound like Republicans so I hope you are all quite proud.