Has its Time Come – and Gone?
© Copyright 2018 by Judith Nakken
Washington, D.C. in 1951: My dad slapped my face when I answered a classmate’s question – who was the Mary we mentioned? “She’s our colored elevator operator,” had been my reply. “Negro” was the proper description, he yelled. The Black Power era arrived a generation later, and I didn’t have much trouble switching the racial description, should I have to use it, to Black with a capital B .. although I grumbled that I didn’t get a capital C or W for being white. But I drew the line when again the switch was made to African-American, especially for those who are born here, and continue to do so. Am I a Danish-Welsh-Pennsylvania Dutch –dash – American? Should an editor recently have declined a story she really wanted to buy, because I wouldn’t change my ‘Negro’ to African-American, describing a crowd of teenagers in Harlem in the late 50’s. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “but the magazine has to remain politically correct.” Correct? I’ll bet my bottom dollar not a one of those 1958 kids knew they were African-Americans, because the PC Police hadn’t yet informed them.
A business evening in the mid-60’s, much like any other. Cobb Salad or ersatz Lobster Newburgh, melting ice cream with a dollop of crème de menthe coming around on clinking trays as the Master of Ceremonies introduced the entertainment, more coffee a seeming impossibility. The three young men thought they were the Four Preps, beginning their medley with the crowd-pleaser, “26 Miles Across the Sea, Santa Catalina….” The boss’s secretary, whose nameplate-and only her nameplate-had recently been upgraded to ‘executive assistant,’ and I were the only women at our table of seven, trying to hold our own in the meager conversation. “This is our own creation,” the lead singer blared, and began an excoriating five verses about Woman’s Lib. It wasn’t musical, the meter was bad, and I suspect my distaste showed on my face.
“I Can always tell the Libbers in the audience when we do that number,” that young man challenged me as he roamed the tables shaking hands. “You didn’t like it at all, huh?”
Much of the protection of women workers had just been removed from California’s Women and Children’s Labor Laws. Rightly so, of course. Why should women workers be lumped with children? I had to have a special dispensation to work more than 48 hours when on the Minute Man Project at North American in the late 50’s, and remembered wondering why the guys didn’t. But, a Libber? “Nope,” I jollied him. “Not a Libber. The only way the Woman’s Movement has affected me so far is that now they don’t have to have a lounge in the bathroom in case I feel faint during the workday, and the company doesn’t have to afford me a 10 minute break every four hours if they don’t want to. No Libber, I, just thought it was a piss poor song.” He hurried away.
Ten Years later, the Woman’s Movement was in full swing and the Equal Rights Amendment was making the rounds of the states, having passed both houses of congress three years earlier. I broke the glass ceiling of an organization to which I belonged, and was elected as one of eight chairs for a two-year term. When I arrived at the first quarterly meeting, the head table was adorned with seven nameplates that said Chairman, and one that said Chairperson.
In the mid-60’s, a head of household (me) with four total dependents paid more income tax than a married man with four total dependents and the same net income. A divorcee could not buy a FHA house even if she met all the requirements. My boss gave my armchair to a new young graduate accountant in our administrative group, wordlessly scooting a secretarial chair to my desk. (I was older and probably outweighed the kid!)
What did I do? I wrote the congressmen and the two senators about the federal inequities, and followed up to no avail with the two who didn’t respond. I quit the job (their loss.) But, mostly, having done all I was able to do at the time …
I got over it.
“I live on the Tulalip Indian Reservation,” I said at a Christian gathering. The woman next to me pursed her lips and wrinkled her nose in a grimace that could set her movement back a hundred years. “Not politically correct?” I asked.
“Well, no,” she mealy-mouthed. “The proper term is ‘Native American.’”
“Well, Ma’am,” I deliberately vulgarized my tone. “My honey says ‘indian,” and he ARE one!”
Witness the uproar over the “all-white” academy awards of 2015 and 2016. Am I to believe that prizes for excellence in acting, producing, directing motion pictures must first be apportioned by race and only then by the quality of the work? In 2017, the last year I watched the Oscars, the academy chairman (woops! ChairPERSON,) actually applauded the fact that much inclusion and diversity appeared in the year’s nominations. I was surprised that Ruth Negga didn’t win best actress, not so surprised that Denzel didn’t get the nod for best actor. The crowd, who nearly brought down the house when Casey Affleck’s clip was shown, would surely have revolted. Anyway, Denzel already has two, so Casey got the Oscar. At the end of the telecast, I picked “Moonlight” solely because of its Black cast and became momentarily delighted that I had probably been wrong in my assumption that the 2017 awards were racially biased, when Fay Dunaway announced the winner to be “La La Land.”
I wasn’t wrong, you know. Faye was. “Moonlight” was 2017’s best picture.
The 2010 Census reported that 14% of the U.S. population defined their race as Black. Another 1 ½% indicated that they were Black + mixed race.
I slipped in the side door of the hotel’s ballroom since I was late and the we-must-all-love-one-another lecture was about to begin. Luncheon had been cleared from the round tables, and seated at the nearest one to the door were five Black women. I pulled out a chair and prepared to sit when one of them spoke. “Those seats are saved,” she said, not unkindly. I wandered further into the room and found a seat that included the first table in my peripheral vision. Another latecomer tiptoed through that side door and asked the obvious five strangers if she could sit there. She was Black, and was invited to join them. What did I do?
I got over it.
Which brings me to the reason why I began jotting down this PC diatribe. Didja see the news stories about protests at Yale, finally resulting in that ancient institution removing the name of John J. Calhoun, our 7th president and a slaveholder, from one of its adjunct campuses?
What in the name of all that is political OR correct does a Calhoun campus have to do with anything in this millennium? And, what about the precedent? What about all the other name changes we will have to do to denigrate the names of presidents who owned slaves when it was legal and a way of life in the United States? Will we make our nation’s capital Lincoln, D.C. and its tall, white, phallic obelisk the Clinton Monument? How many cities, small and large, including the capital of Wisconsin, will have to find another hero and rename themselves? Indeed, will I find myself living in Bushington State? At a time when rumors abound that a foreign power interfered in our recent election, will we fear to fling that slave-owning Monroe’s doctrine at them? And finally, how will we erase the riddle about who’s buried in his tomb from the hearts and minds of everyone who has ever been in the fourth grade, if we can no longer honor our general tippler, Ulysses S. Grant?
A final observation about Political Correctness. It becomes obvious that it has served beyond its purpose, the probability that Equal Rights and Civil Rights lawmaking has not changed the hearts and minds of our people and that we, as a nation, are further divided than we were in 1960. Why, then, do most individuals and all business entities fear being named Politically Incorrect? A woman pulled a fuzzy little dog along on a leash in the casino restaurant where we went for lunch, stood in line to order while it gamboled around my feet as well as hers, and gave it the whole leash length to roam while she sat in her booth and ate. Washington State’s RCW 49.60.218, (3) (a) specifically states that in establishments that serve food, the service animal must be any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. It then qualifies the statement: The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship do not constitute work or tasks.
The security guy was unimpressed with my knowledge. “We are instructed not to interfere with service animals,” was his only comment. The beloved puppy continued to gambol.
What was wrong with “Do Unto Others?” The spirit as well as the letter of that ancient law was there, and it didn’t name names, genders, races or perceived sins. I’m getting off the PC bandwagon and hitching a ride on the Golden Rule.
to join me?
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