Sunday, June 29, 2014

That PC Thing

A few days ago I was talking with my friend Mike, a writer and founder of the Arlington Writers’ Group in northern Virginia. He’d read a blog I recently wrote about rising anti-Semitism in France, and the chat drifted to a conversation he’d recently had with his daughter about a friend of hers. Mike couldn’t quite place which friend his daughter was referring to; she told him this friend was the one with whom she played volleyball, the one who always got good grades, and had come over to their house a couple of times. Still, nothing for Mike, who simply couldn’t place the girl. So the daughter found a picture of the volleyball team. Her friend was in the second row, third from the right. Mike’s daughter’s friend, it turned out, was black, but the daughter had not once used that particularly obvious identifier to describe the girl.
We spoke about that for a little while, hypothesized the possibility that kids no longer recognize race as a factor in their relationships. If so, did that mean we were heading toward a brighter, racism-free world?
Me, I’m a cynic. I think what has happened is that we have so constantly played the political correctness cards that people--adult and adolescents alike--have decided it is safer to not even mention race when we speak of someone, lest we be labelled petty and bigoted. Personally, I find this notion both strange and frightening.
I was working for the Washington Post a few decades ago when a debate raged in the newsroom regarding the validity of identifying the race of a purported or suspected criminal in a story.  The older reporters thought the individual’s color was a necessary part of whatever they were writing about--politics, fashion, sports, the arts and society, and yes, crime. The younger staff, many of whom were black reporters, thought this was blatant racism. Personally, I agreed then and still do today with the late Bob Maynard, a friend and celebrated journalist, who thought that yes, absolutely, race should be mentioned. Bob was black and often wrote about discrimination, but on this particular subject, he was steadfast. We identify people using the color of their hair and eyes, their morphology, their geographical origin, their gender, education, marital status and profession, their religion, shoe styles, whether they like seafood, and which team they root for. Leaving race out, he thought, was almost in and of itself a racist act.
In time, the term racial profiling would creep into the national consciousness and spur yet another debate, further adding to the misbegotten notion of political correctness, and adding yet another level of opaqueness to national obfuscation. 
What I’d really like to know is whether the urban kids of today really do not see race. I suspect they do, and that perhaps amongst themselves, there is no taboo in saying someone is yellow, red, tan, white or black. But we---the adults, the media, the entertainment industry, the entire environment of their young lives--have let it be known that one’s color is not up for discussion or even recognition.  We prefer not to be accused of any ism and will go to great length to be circumspect.
That’s odd, and I’m pretty sure, not helpful. Race is simply a fact of life that should be neither more nor less important than any other individual feature. Negating its existence by not mentioning it does nothing to eliminate prejudice or discrimination.
Quoting the very white, very French and very bourgeois Monsieur Prudhomme, that’s my opinion, and I share it.

1 comment:

  1. If an adult fails to mention race, it is most likely because of political correctness. We've gone way overboard. However, if a kid does not mention the race of a friend, he/she probably hasn't given it a second thought. I've been volunteering in the local schools and tutoring for many years and I doubt that any of the kids I know would even think to mention race unless someone specifically asked him/her. With them, it's not political correctness, they really just don't pay attention to skin color. Things are changing...slowly. At least this is the case in our local area where the elementary school has students from 64 different countries. It may well be different elsewhere in the US. But even my young relatives in the hills of KY have African American friends and I don't recall them ever referring to their race.