Monday, April 14, 2008

Political Correctness ( who knew?) How to apologize

A few weeks ago a Toronto city councillor rose in the council chamber and gave a speech praising the work ethic of oriental people. Among other things, he said, "This is why they are slowly taking over." He stirred up a shit storm and eventually was forced into an apology.

Apparently, his alleged mistake was referring to people from east and southeast Asia as "Orientals" instead of "Asians". It was the first time anyone I know, including me, had heard that the term oriental is politically incorrect. So, presumably, if he had said, "This why Asians are slowly taking over", that would have been ok? I think not. There is more to this than simple political incorrectness.

It is ok to praise a work ethic, just not ok to suggest it might actually lead those who are practicing it somewhere. The oriental people who protested said that his speech had shades of the prejudice that used to manifest itself in Canada as references to the "yellow peril" and that the councillor was an anachronism.

I happen to believe that people who work hard do succeed and eventually "take over", and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. It is one of the chief arguments against a socialistic welfare state. These people I guess want to take over without anyone noticing it, so they have to shut up a guy who is publicly paying them a compliment. Bizarre.

It reminded me, however, of some famous apologies.

I read about some broadcaster years ago (I can't recall the guy, but it was somebody famous). Anyway, like everybody else in the business, he started out young at small town radio station. One December he was commenting on air about how everybody was getting into the Christmas spirit and that the neighbourhood YMCA was even painting the cockroaches red and green. He got a blistering rebuke from the YMCA. So the next day, he mentioned his faux pas and said he was sorry about the mistake, adding "apparently the YMCA is not painting their cockroaches red and green this Christmas."

There was also a very famous English barrister, who, having his cross-examination of a witness interrupted once too often by the interfering judge, said, "I am sorry, my lord. Of course you are right, and I am wrong, as your lordship usually is."

But this whole political correctness thing is too complicated for simple folk to follow. In an earlier blogpost, I mentioned being surprised by a talk show host correcting his guest who had said the word "Jew" and telling him he ought to have used "Jewish" instead. Jews call themselves Jews for pity sake. It depends on how you are using it. If you want to say "he Jewed me" or "don't let him Jew you", then I think it is fair to assume it's being used in a pejorative sense. Otherwise, it's a perfectly acceptable word.

How about the evolution of the word "nigger". When I was a boy, my mother taught me that this was one of the worst words anyone could utter. And to this day, I still cringe when I hear it. The problem is that I hear it too often, it's everywhere.

In the 20th century it went from negro, to nigger, to coloured people, to people of colour, to African-Americans, to blacks and now back to niggers. Although, as a white person, it is still not ok for me to use that term, even if I were inclined.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I found an interesting website that tracks political correctness. So you can always be on top of this and avoid those funny looks at cocktail parties when you open your mouth and lose that job promotion.

This website suggests that the anachronistic city councillor is a man firmly planted in the early 90's. By the middle 90's the term oriental was verboten.

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