Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Politically Correct Thanksgiving!

Most of what I know about Thanksgiving, I learned from elementary school plays. I believe I was one of the Pilgrims in first grade, which meant I had to dress like the Quaker Oats guy and replace all pronouns with funny words like thee, thou, and thy. "Thou gave me thy cooties," I said to Wendy Russell (not her real name; these are litigious times). Pilgrims were evidently stern and serious people because our teachers instructed us not to smile or laugh as we thanked our Native American friends for explaining that this "maize" stuff was actually corn, without which starvation might have turned the colony into a colorless version of that soccer team that crashed their plane into the Andes. ("Thy legs are plump and juicy, Miss Priscilla!" "Speak for yourself, John Alden.")

The kids assigned to play the Indians had the even more difficult task of being as racially insensitive as possible. Unable to wait three decades for the premiere of the History Channel, their performance was informed by the media available to them: John Wayne movies, Saturday morning cartoons, and F Troop. While the Pilgrims struggled with silly pronouns, the Indians were busy banishing all articles from their speech. "How." they would begin, and not in the form of a question. "We bring squaws and children from forest to white man's feast." Needless to say, they clothed themselves in a manner that would make even today's Atlanta Braves fans blush.

With those precious memories at hand, I would like to observe the 386th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving by expressing my gratitude for political correctness. Yes, you heard me right, I am thankful for P.C. in all its censorious glory. I rarely use the term political correctness, of course, preferring synonyms such as consideration, inoffensiveness, or basic human decency.

Like everyone else, I struggle with boundaries. Is it OK to say Indian Summer? Should I speak of Hispanics or Latinos? Why is that hockey team in Vancouver allowed to call themselves the Canucks?

Nevertheless, unlike many of you, I remember how things used to be before the culture required us to engage that little editor in our brains. Back then, we lived in a world of buck-toothed Asians, Frito Banditos, and J.J. "Dy-no-MITE" Walker. When we eenie, meeny, miny, moed, it was not always a tiger whose toe we were seeking to catch. On those rare occasions that we were called to account for our oblivious epithets, our response was, "Can't you take a joke?" We didn't much care to be called honkies, however, because that was nasty and threatening.

Words and symbols matter, and if you don't believe that, simply monitor your emotions the next time someone sets flame to the American flag.

There is, no doubt, at least some prejudice in all of us; we are human animals and we are biologically rigged to choose sides. But there is nothing wrong, and much right, with feeling self conscious about our biases. When we ask ourselves, "Am I allowed to say that?", the experience may be annoying, but it is also evidence that we can rise above our animal inheritance.

And that's something for which we can all be thankful. Enjoy your turkey!

No comments: