Political correctness can come between us...
(By Rose Moore, published in her weekly column in Gazette Newspapers Jefferson, Ohio, in March 2012)
When Robert De Niro recently joked that "America might not be ready for a white first lady," I personally did not believe he meant a bit of harm. He was joking, pure and simple. But in the process he became a member of the latest list of the Politically Incorrect.
Who isn't familiar with that term---Political Correctness---popularly referred to in modern-day shorthand as "PC?" Who among us thinks I am the only person feeling an increasing dismay at today's over-use of PC?
More and more, I hear that term come up in casual discussion among different groups in various places. Now I'm beginning to sense a growing agreement that Political Correctness really doesn't help to solve our differences. In fact, it actually divides us!
Often in PC discussions, I find myself sharing memories of a man my husband and I met almost a decade ago. His name was Guy Darden. He was an African American tailor, short in stature and long in wisdom, and he was marvelous to talk to. We had met with him originally because we had lost some weight and wanted to have our clothes re-tailored for a better fit, and a trusted friend had recommended him.
Though he was truly the gifted tailor our friend had said he was, we remember him more for the talks we enjoyed together. Words flowed easily between us from the start. Our fittings always took longer because of that; and that, I think, was largely because of Darden's own character.
We didn't have to be afraid to tackle any subject with him, including racism and misunderstandings and poor communications between people with all sorts of differences. Some of our talk together was serious; some was reflective; and some was peppered with Darden's innate good humor. He knew how to laugh and how to joke.
ONE DAY WHEN we talked of Political Correctness, he chuckled and said, "A customer once asked me what was the politically correct name for people of my race---Negro, black or African American? I laughed and told him, 'As far as I'm concerned, whatever your origin is, if you want to call me anything, you should call me Guy. Or Mr. Darden if you please.' "
Darden was a man with words worth listening to. He loved people, and he did not intend to let the modern Political Correctness fears create a barrier. He was outgoing and open and honest, and he told us he had learned a lot in life from talking to people, whatever their race, religion, political views, history, education or age.
People are always different from each other in one way or another, he said, and he intended to speak to as many people as he could before he died. He expected to learn something from all of them, and to teach them something too.
"It goes without saying," he said, "that you need to be civilized in your talk and behavior with others. But if you don't let a fear of using 'the wrong words' come between you and your conversations with anyone, you would find it amazing how the barriers can fall away. Too many people are afraid their good intentions will be misinterpreted by the time they reach the listening ears of the people they are trying to talk to. So they don't speak together at all! It's a fear that's been heavily taught to this generation; it builds up animosity where it doesn't need to be. That can be particularly true these days when people of different races come together."
IN OUR OPINION, Darden was right. Bob and I have often said we didn't know him nearly long enough; and when he died, we regretted losing out on all the future conversations we might have had. A bit of him lives on; I'm sure we're not the only people who have talked with him and shared his words with many people. We saw him as a good and happy influence on anyone who shared his time.
I remember a particular conversation with friends some time ago, in which we shared our memories of the late Mr. Darden. Bob and I were having coffee with friends, in a public area with groups of people all around us. Our conversation led to Political Correctness, then morphed into the subject of communications between the races. As we talked, I was aware that I had heard a group sit down behind us.
It seemed to Bob and me that our table mates were suddenly lowering their voices, yet our talk continued. We shared with our friends some questions with which Darden had challenged us, including: "How can we ever share a happy, animated conversation if we have to worry about every single phrase and word that passes between us?... How can people with any sort of difference really get to know each other if they have to constantly follow a pre-set, politically correct pattern?... And where, in the shadow of PC, is there room for humor, which is a universal blender?"
The truth of those words still rang in our ears as we spoke with our friends that day. The original intention of "Political correctness" may have been to help us diversify, but it truly does seem to have worked in the opposite direction. It has helped to build resentments on both sides. In listening for trouble, we have found it where it hasn't existed; we have seen bad intentions where only good intentions were meant. PC has broken down our communication with each other, rather than fostering it. It has stilted easy conversation and therefore our communications.
Our gabfest that day ended sooner than we would have liked. Realizing suddenly that we were running late for an appointment, my husband and I rose to leave. We turned and saw the family behind us---they happened to be African American---and Bob and I felt no discomfort at their having heard our conversation.
As we smiled and nodded greetings to this group, they responded with friendly smiles and thumbs-up signals; and a lovely middle-aged woman among them spoke a soft "Amen to what you said." They had heard our words and accepted them in the spirit in which they had been spoken.
LONG-TIME READERS of this column may recall that, when Guy Darden passed away, I devoted my column space to a eulogy richly deserved by this good man who understood how much richer life could be if we could talk among ourselves as people, despite our differences... and without a "PC" pattern analyzing every word.