Growing up during the second half of the 20th Century, living through the 50s, 60s, and 70s in particular, my heroes included Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Leonard Bernstein, Lenny Bruce, Gloria Steinem, John F. Kennedy and Sylvia Rivera. These were just some of the pioneers who changed America and put us on the road to defeating bigotry; at the very least to exiling bigotry to the dark obscure corners of bad taste and very wrong.
At the beginning of my childhood, segregation and submissive women were the norm. Coloreds, Jews, and sometimes Catholics as well were not admitted, and women served men. By the 60s the world had changed – ignorance was on the run and from the White House on down the message was clear: This is America and all men "and women" are created equal regardless of race, color, or creed.
So how, when, and why did we revive the beast? At what point did the term "politically correct" become a joke? I'm not talking about politically incorrect humor. In fact, the civil rights explosion of the 50s and 60s gave birth to a new type of American humor: the right and the freedom to poke fun of bigotry and ignorance. Lennie Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor. More heroes.
But how did "politically correct" became an object of disdain? The punchline?
The serious side of political correctness had to do with guidelines for civility, respect, and consideration, opposition to discrimination, bigotry, hate language, and behavior. Politically incorrect humor allowed us to poke fun at ourselves and our own foibles.
And then it all went terribly wrong and was turned upside down. People like Ann Coulter, Rick Santorum, Bill O'Reilly, Pat Robertson and so many others portrayed "politically correct" as treasonous and unholy.
At some point, the Bible replaced the Constitution as the standard for the American way. Right-wing politicians and pundits speak about sexual minorities with utter self-righteous contempt. So-called Christian organizations openly advocate gay bashing of children in our schools. A woman is fired from her teaching job because she is a woman, and the Bible says that women must be obedient to men.
A little over a week ago nine black children attending a Louisiana elementary school were directed to the back of the bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children. The bus driver has yet to be fired. And of course this is not something you even knew about because the national media was mostly indifferent to the matter.
A prominent Republican politician and presidential hopeful publicly calls an American of color a monkey and a visitor to "real America" at a political rally and is then rewarded by fund raising support from the President of the United States. When the White House was challenged for not only remaining silent on this incident but rewarding it, the White House deputy press secretary shot back that the Senator who called the darkie a monkey had already apologized, and that the White House had accepted the apology." (Feel free to bang your head on the wall over that one.)
CBS television announces that a new version of its Survivor reality television show will pit four racial teams against one another: Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Whites. The good news is that the Asian team includes the owner of a nail salon so everyone will have lovely fingers, the Black team has a jazz musician, and the Hispanic team includes a waiter.
Nary a day goes by without reports of new cross burnings on the front lawns of black homes — and occassionaly Jewish and gay homes — across America. How charmingly retro. And not a whimper from the White House.
Tens of thousands of poor African Americans were abandoned by their own government just one year ago after the devastation in New Orleans and the White House walks away with impunity. And to add insult to injury, the President's mother toured the ocean of human suffering and then turned to the television cameras and chuckled that "they" were probably better off living in a sports stadium camp then in their awful homes. Her exact quote, in case you've forgotten: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – this (she chuckles slightly) is working out very well for them." And then the nation chuckled.
Not since the days of George Wallace and Lester Maddox have we seen bigotry this arrogant and bold. For any one of us who has lived a few years, it has an all-too-familiar and frightening ring. However the difference — and it is not a small difference — is that this is the first time in modern American history that bigotry has been championed and funded by the White House.
Now all of you go back to your celebrity gossip, reality television, and video games and pretend that none of this is happening – until your Internet access is censored and shut down, your career is terminated because you're not a white, Christian, heterosexual, your passport is canceled, or you receive the late night (warrantless) knock on your door.
Oh, and don't trouble yourselves with voting come November. After all, Blacks are once again in the back of the bus where they belong, and all is well and good with Amerika.Powered by Sidelines