Meehan: Political correctness
July 7, 2016
In the sense that through ignorance, to one degree or another, we are all biased, I look back on the verbal offenses I have committed upon others both to their faces and behind their backs with humility and not a small amount of melancholy.
As a child I used to wonder why I had been born into such lucky circumstance: not only had I arrived on the planet as Caucasian, Catholic, and American, but Irish. Plus we lived in the panhandle of Idaho. I had won the lottery, so to speak. It was all downhill from there.
I tried not to flaunt my obvious cultural advantages over my less fortunate peers but, I suppose some of it just radiated outward as part of my overall "glow."
Even though "love" abounded in our household, I became susceptible through osmosis to many of the innate prejudices that just seemed to come part and parcel with the above-mentioned demographic grouping.
Back then, white Irish-American Catholics, although having only relatively recently achieved buoyancy sufficient to float off the bottom of the national immigration barrel, quickly, not unlike the other nationalities that had preceded them, began looking around for other classifications upon which to look down.
In that mining towns were such a melting pot of nationalities, that particular category never arose as an issue — at least as far as European ethnicities were concerned. Religious inclinations also never seemed to differentiate us much either, although I do recall talk around the grandparents' dinner table that our politics were controlled by a bunch of "Mormons," whoever they were, in a far off land called "Boysee."
To be sure, I grew up homophobic. Although I would have been hard pressed to define the particularities involved, whenever a California license plate was spotted crossing the county line, word quickly, in an analogue sense, went viral. It would be much later that I learned how fortunate we local "altar boys" had been each time the roulette wheel of clergy assignments had been spun.
I'm pretty sure psychoanalysis could have peeled back somewhat subtle levels of sexism, racism, classism, etc., in the various strata of my psyche back then and probably still could. Although I would hope that, through time, I have become less ignorant.
There's that word again. All ignorance really means is that, in whatever discipline is involved, one has yet to cognitively absorb the knowledge required to understand. To "learn" is to change behavior, as they say. Emotions and intolerance often get in the way of learning, however, as can be witness quite clearly in current political discourse.
Take "political correctness" for example. As I see it, the entire concept evolved out of asking others to "define their terms" in any discussion of perceived import. Agreeing on what specific words actually mean should be central to both parties prior to words being flung about.
An example that comes quickly to mind from my own experience concerns the term "Anasazi," which I had long used to identify the culture that had once occupied the four corners region of the American southwest before seemingly disappearing about 1300 A.D.
Once I learned that their descendants, the contemporary Puebloans, no longer wished the term to be used in reference to their culture due to it being of Navajo origin and translating roughly into "enemies of our ancestors," I immediately adopted the now evolved politically correct term "Ancestral Puebloan."
It was important to me that I refrained from referring to them by the use of any term they deemed offensive for whatever reason. Now, I'm quite aware that this makes me a "loser" with those doing battle with political correctness at all levels, but I can live with that. For those of that persuasion, I keep my "bullshit detector" constantly enabled.
It's not that I'm unaware that the "PC" pendulum might have caused collateral damage as its arc has, over time, swung through the many vagaries of cultural discourse. It's just that I'm of the opinion that those who continually tilt at its imagined windmills need to get a life. And, while they are at it, learn to define their terms.
The cleaning up of my own act, of course, certainly can't be ignored. My prejudice against white males that deny their own history needs further examination, to be sure. No doubt, my implications are offensive to many and I need to become more politically correct in selecting my words.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.