Lake Michigan, early morning, near Sheboygan WI, 2000
Around three this morning when I couldn’t get back to sleep, I thought of seven possible blog topics. Of course, by the dawn’s early light when I awoke again, none of them sprang to mind, so you will have to take my word for it. And they were really good topics, whatever they were.
I’m sure one of the topics had to do with politics.
This past week we, the American people, have seen some amazing things. For example, the discussion about ‘anchor babies’ brought several issues to the fore, and got me thinking about censorship again.
Finally, after being hounded for days, Jeb Bush turned to a reporter who had just “informed” him that the term ‘anchor babies’ was offensive and therefore politically incorrect, and said, “Do you have a better word?” The reporter shut up at that point or kept on sputtering, I don’t know which because the film ended and I wasn’t there. Some wag suggested ‘anchor fetus’, but there is no better term.
Why are some phrases or words offensive and others not? I became super sensitized to this at the Census Bureau where I worked in the ‘Race and Ethnic’ area of the population division. Believe me our words, both written and spoken were heavily censored. No matter what we said or wrote, someone objected. Working there was George Orwell’s nightmare come true.
Because I worked with this particular government operation, I can understand how “political correctness” can become a destructive force, like the censorship experienced in Nazi Germany or Staasi Poland.
Okay, let me give you an example. Because two of my great grandparents spoke German, I often us the word “folk” which come from the German “Volk.” Because the class system is alive and well in the U.S., some people think the word is downscale or common, probably because ‘immigrants’ used it. These snobs prefer the word “people” from the Greco-Roman-Norman root.
Another example that actually makes some sense refers to American Indians, Alaska Natives, Indigenous tribes, First People, or whatever you wish to call them.
The people living in the Americas at the time of the European discovery were immigrants to the “New World”, just like every one else. Anthropologists think these migrants came in two waves across the Siberian land bridge because the First People found in South America are more ancient. Genetics suggest that both groups origins lie in Central Asia, which means they are related to Europeans and Asians. In other words, we all have the same ancestor.
Members of these groups distinguish themselves by their tribal names. What “outsiders” call them is arbitrary in their eyes. At least that has been my experience, having been corrected by a couple of them (co-workers).
They are not a homogeneous group either. Thus some support the ‘Redskin’ name of the Washington team, and a few don’t. Most outsiders finding the name offensive are ignorant of this verbal divide. Me, I have no opinion because I am not a football fan and I dislike the team owner because he cut down a swath of trees on the George Washington Parkway to improve his view of the Potomac.
One of my wise acre co-workers called the censorship we experienced at the Census Bureau, the work of the “comma police.” So be warned!