I once asked a group of readers and writers in a writers' support group: "Would you buy a novel called "Saga of a Half-Breed?" Several teachers in the group were aghast. "Never," they said in agreement. "We'd never buy that." And they never returned to our reading writers group ever again. Wow, you'd think I was offering them recipes for eating people.
I looked into what gave "half-breed" its negative connotation and decided that this whole topic of political correctness (PC) needs correcting, especially when most of the time political correctness means we're forcing modernity into behaviors of the past. We're trying to whitewash our history.
Are we too prissy now to stand a little annoyance? A comedic sketch demonstrated how sensitive we've all become: "You're annoyed by what I said? So what? Since when did sticks and stones may break my bones not become relevant?" See it for a chuckle at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl6lX08MXDI at around 4 minutes.
Do some people really think changing a few historical terms that annoy us will change history? We've gotten so hung up about slavery that we want to wipe it from existence in our history books. Neat, but life doesn't work that way. The only PC changes we should concern ourselves with is how we address societal norms today. History, and its players, need to remain intact to show us where we've been and how far we've come.
So that's what we're going to look at here—the proper use of PC. I took this topic to a historical conference in Virginia, but halfway there I realized I was in over my head. So many things I see today I wish I'd known then. Still, we had a riveting discussion, and I concluded that, while we can't allow those terms a dominant role (like a book cover) anymore, we cannot hide the past. Generalities (stereotypes) created this modern antagonism of stomping on other people's rights, and it's time to understand that humans really are all alike inside. Whether or not we eat them.
After all, who's correcting Shakespeare? And why was he so nice to the ladies, anyway? Even better than we are today. I suspect they weren't near as patrilineal back then as the U.S. society is trying to remain today.
An old song, "Baby It's Cold Outside," was recently deemed insulting to the #MeToo movement, and some considered the movie, "The Philadelphia Story," as making light of domestic violence. I guess PC means we can't enjoy media from the past because it reminds us of who we used to be. We think stereotypically that domestic abuse is one-sided (it might not be—consider the movie "War of the Roses."), or that anyone who says no could not possibly just be waiting to hear the right words. Ask around. Has anyone raped a woman because of that song? Yes, we need to make sure that we are providing an atmosphere where rape victims are not afraid to call foul. But we also have to realize that women can and do make faulty accusations (think Al Franken). We need both balance and understanding in looking at any issue these days.
Historical media are time capsules to understand the eras in which they were created. PC should not apply to erasing history.
Political correctness has gotten a bad rap, and people yell foul when you call them racist for supporting Trump. Western movie fans want to go back to shoot 'em up westerns where Indians were always the bad guys. But don't call them racist. One post on TV westerns at Facebook started with the caption: "Good God ...we have become a nation of pussies."
Yes, we have. It's called giving due respect to all human beings and getting history right. Cats are easy-going, mellow, and like/hate all people the same, regardless of skin color or religion. So let's be pussies.
First, what is the proper application of politically correct?
Oxford Dictionary online defined PC this way: "The avoidance, often considered taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against." We have all been marginalized, insulted or excluded at some point in our lives, right? Didn't make the baseball team in third grade? That favorite little girl didn't give you a Valentine in Kindergarten? What about walking home from school? Were you often alone?
But this definition refers to groups. If you're Jewish, you're greedy. If you're black, sit at that back of the bus. Today some whites claim they voted for Trump because they've been marginalized and disadvantaged. At the Parkland shooting, the gunman supposedly belonged to a group that wanted to make all of Florida white. Trump claimed that he was going to "Make America Great Again" and his base is filled with racist sentiment. The KKK supports him. So are we to assume that "greatness" is tied to "whiteness?" Is that what the border wall is all about—protecting whiteness? Whites are so afraid of becoming the minority because then, guess what? They'll be coming for you. It's all nonsense, really. The world is a melting pot and it always has been. Being white doesn't make you smart, or better, or nicer. Let the erasing of whiteness continue!
This PC definition, by referring to groups, attacks stereotypes. Not all whites are racist, for instance. That's what PC is meant for, and really, all that it's meant for. There are a lot of ways this political correctness is being misused and then gets a bad rap—not because of what it is, but because of what it shouldn't be applied to.
Take Trump's logo: Make America Great Again. Never mind that he means white again. Of course he does. White and rich. But what does the word America stand for? America in geography encompasses all of the North and South American continents. But American in the U.S. means just us, and this attitude goes back a long ways. It's a hard concept to erase—that by saying American, we mean Canada and all points south. If we want to be PC and assign ourselves an appropriate group name, we should refer to US citizens and residents as Uessens (U-S-ens). I doubt Trump is interested in improving Central America, for instance, or he'd see that as a better solution than a border wall.
Political correctness means that we recognize that generalities that were used in the past were inappropriately applied to groups of people. For example, all Indians were to blame for the attacks of a few. Today, not all who wear those red baseball hats are racist—although if they wear them to a Democratic rally, they are looking for a fight. See how this works? If you think all Muslims are terrorists, you are not being politically correct. PC attacks stereotypes and recognizes all the varying attitudes in the world, and how humans inside are all the same. PC attempts to correct radical attitudes by showing history as it was, not in stereotype to further a racist agenda.
Maybe this definition will help: Today we recognize that slavery was wrong, that there is no inferior race; and all religions are created equal. Today we use this understanding to put all humans on an equal basis, and to understand our common core of humanity. PC means giving equality to every race, creed and philosophy, and recognize people as people, not as representing any single group.
No, the United States was not founded on Christian values. Freedom of religion is in the constitution, and "in God we trust" was added to our currency during our fear of Communism in the 1950s. God is not sending Armageddon as a second coming—unless God is just having a good chuckle watching us destroy ourselves with these ridiculous beliefs.
Religion doesn't create racists, as there are plenty who don't support supremacist white culture. But if you don't like being politically correct, you are probably racist because it means you don't believe all humans are equal. This attitude led to the denigration of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the creation of All Lives Matter. Many view BLM members as terrorists because, to them, BLM protests led to cop killings. They ignore the fact that many cops get away with killing unarmed blacks. The problem is not that, yes, all lives matter. Of course that's true. The problem is that it seems that all lives matter except blacks. Lives of kids in cages matter, but All Lives Matter was just rhetoric and an anti-PC movement. It doesn't mean they really care.
Cops killing blacks has been going on long before Obama. Obama's presidency began to shine the light on the racist cop issue a little more. And today there are still more incarcerated blacks than whites; minor offenses that elicited major jail time for blacks, but not whites. In 2013, during Obama's term, the incarceration ratio was nearly 4 blacks to 1 white.
Reverse discrimination can also exist, if the attitude is generalized. All whites suck is non-PC because it generalizes and is probably not true. All whites have advantages in the U.S. is probably not true, but no white has had to sit in the back of the bus (unless maybe they were stinky and dirty), and, until Obama, all US presidents were white men. There is also economic injustice, but that is rarely referred to in PC terms. There people are just called lazy—which is also non-PC if an entire group is referred to as "on the dole."
Name calling is also a PC issue. Russell Means, a 70s activist, once said, "The one thing I've always maintained is that I'm an American Indian. I'm not politically correct."
Referring to groups by their favored jargon has always been a sticky widget for authors and others who are writing about groups. Hyphenated names are considered PC, so you'll see many of those in texts. I'd be European-American, right? Some insist blacks should be called African-American. But the group is not called "African-American Lives Matter." Most blacks are not from Africa and I've never lived in Europe. We say American Indian so we don't think they're from India. Or they're Native American, or indigenous, or even native American Indian. He should have noted that he's Oglala, rather than American Indian.
And no, Uessen Indian makes little sense, for the mere fact that Indian is a misnomer to start with, their ancestors migrated all over the Americas, and their ancestors were here before America split into divisive borders. Historically, redskin and half-breed were common names but are now considered degrading, as are Negro and colored. These are PC issues, because of the attitude that developed behind the use of the names.
And attitude is what we're talking about.
If black and white are acceptable terms for skin color, what about yellow and red? "Redskin" indicates the color of the native's blood when they were scalped and no one wants to be referred to as yellow, which is now a term for coward. Why? Not because of Asians migrating to the US in the 1800s, hopefully. One source noted that it came from lily-livered, or when you have jaundice because you have liver problems.
Use what's acceptable to the group—what they call themselves, or what they find non-offensive. We still refer to people in groups, but the attitude toward the group is an important consideration in that address. There are some who might get annoyed by anything you call that group—people just don't always agree. But we can learn to accept a little annoyance from time to time, as long as the attitude is not damaging or negative. Don't yell "Hey nigger" at a black man. He won't get your attitude, and you might get the response you intended.
Attitude is key in any PC discussion. One lady in a blog wondered why dressing up for Halloween in Muslim garb is considered in poor taste. Were those fellows sitting around pretending to be terrorists? Or were they discussing the good things their religion stands for? A negative attitude is what hurts any residing member of any group. I don't want anyone looking at me, seeing white, and calling me racist.
What about the issue of Washington Redskins? Is it too PC to want the name changed? Why do some of us liberal whites take offense to the name? This is a change that the American Indians should demand, right? Well, take the Standing Rock Sioux protests in North Dakota against a pipeline a few years back; why would the Sioux take on a football team when they have more pressing matters? Saying whites can't join in the fight for fair treatment of the indigenous population is like saying whites had no business in the Selma march in the '60s. American Indians should lead the way on these issues, and now that there are American Indian women in Congress, maybe we'll hear more about changing these derogatory name markers.
PC attitude attempts to stop us from belittling any particular group of people by generalizing that they're all like a particular member of that group. Not all American Indians are offended by "redskins."
"Half-breed" is one of those terms where historical attitude changed over time. The nonfiction history book, "Halfbreed" by David Fridtjof Halaas and Andrew Masich, was published in 2004 with that title in big bold letters. But inside the book, the term is rarely used, opting for "mixed blood" instead. But half-breed is a term exclusively for that 'condition' of being half-white, half-Indian. You can't use half-blood anymore, because Harry Potter fans claim that now. In "Halfbreed," a nonfiction book, there are two attitudes—some sided with the Indians, while others worked for the whites. Guess who made half-breeds a bad word? Right, the whites. And use of the word "breed" makes Indians sound like animals. Heck, we all breed, don't we? It wasn't the word, though—it was this changing attitude.
Let's see look at a few of those changing attitudes.
Western movies today strive for political correctness. What that means is that they now work to undo the unfavorable stereotypes of the past. Now they make movies that are historically accurate, but western fans whine that there are no villains left. So what did one producer do? Cast Kurt Russell in a western where the bad Indians were cannibals (if you haven't seen Bone Tomahawk, don't bother.) Right now, drop that idea that cannibals are the last great villains. Cannibalism was either a ritual spiritual practice or because people were starving. They are not all Jeffrey Dahmer. But does this mean that John Wayne westerns cannot ever be watched again? No. But understanding stereotypes in in our recent history gives us the ability and knowledge to understand attitudes in history.
Proper use of PC stops us from saying all Indians were savage and all cowboys were John Wayne, trying to save the settlers. I was amazed a few years ago when I was interviewed by a college class in Maryland that had used one of my historical novels as required reading. The question was, "But cowboys and Indians were never friends, right?" The answer should be obvious by now but wasn't to them. Lots of whites and Indians got along, even in the 1800s; that's why we have "half-breeds" and "The Lone Ranger."
PC doesn't pertain to the Christmas Issue. Some Christians feel persecuted when they say Merry Christmas to you, and you say Happy Holidays in return. We hear "Jesus is the reason for the season" as their reproach. As a Pagan, I know that Christmas was placed over the winter solstice celebration, so I get annoyed when I'm told I must believe in Jesus to celebrate the holiday. I once wrote an editorial about the Christian takeover of Pagan holidays and got a phone call from a local politician thanking me. He said I opened his eyes to something he never knew. Everyone should know this.
Learning about the variety of religious beliefs and accepting that people have varying attitudes about a lot of things, however, is a very PC thing to do.
My annoyance stems from the belief that Christians and Catholics and those people who knock on my door want to convert me. Their annoyance relates to the idea that they haven't. The Christmas tree and Santa are German traditions, and the Pagan celebrations at winter solstice were rituals to make the days longer again. And it always worked, too. The other celebrations this time of year have nothing to do with Jesus—such as New Year's, which used to be April 1st, and school break. We often say "happy holidays" as a way of embracing the time between Christmas and New Year's while many people are on vacation.
Here's a solution. You say Merry Christmas to me, and I won't get offended because that's what you celebrate. I'll say Happy Holidays to you, and if you get offended, I won't care.
Religion is a topic filled with attitude, and today it seems directly tied to immigration. Kick out the Muslims, block immigration based on religion, and build that Mexican wall; Trump sounds sincere when he believes these things will make "America" great again. Being religiously tolerant is not a PC issue—it's in the Constitution.
Here's an example of someone taking an immigration issue too far:
"Just recently, our local Board of Educators held a training session where staff members were taught how to assist voters with language problems. One employee happened to remark that his parents emigrated from Poland to the United States, and he casually mentioned that they had to learn English before they could vote. Some Hispanic members at the session were outraged by the remark, and the worker was fired. Talk about draconian political correctness!" reported by editor Ronald Kohl.
There's a difference between Polish immigrants in the 1800s, who were probably Christian, and people coming up from Mexico in today's climate. They are probably Catholic and could become voters against Trump's GOP. Anyone, Polish or not, who is a citizen is eligible to vote, but there are rules and speaking English is one of them. These Hispanics may have been offended because they thought the guy was criticizing them for not learning English—which is still a requirement for citizenship. Is citizenship a PC issue? No, and neither is immigration; unless you refer to all from Mexico and Central America as terrorists or "lazy bums who will live on our food stamps," which, by the way, they can't get until they're citizens.
Is citizenship hard to get here? I tried to find out on a Q&A site set up online, and it asked if I was over 18, and live here, and have a green card. (I expect now that ICE will come knocking on my door.) Once I got that far, I realized the questions were all in English. I did learn that to apply for citizenship, you need to be a green card holder for at least five years, be physically present here for 30 months out of those 60 months, and be able to write, read and speak English. Yet here in Beloit where I live, with its high Hispanic population, many of the signs are in Spanish. And of course you have to be law-abiding, of good character, know the Constitution … huh. Then how did someone like Trump get to be president? I wouldn't let him into the country.
It really shouldn't be a problem to let migrants work here and go home again. This is a justice problem and not PC, except that we're stigmatizing an entire group of people. They're Latinos, so they don't belong here. There's even a special category for them on any census record: white &/or latino. Amazing what this country gets away with.
So what does politics have to do with PC?
Politics is run by flawed humans. How political is PC? From Writing.com:
The phrase "political correctness" has been around a lot longer than most people realize. Today the phrase is applied in everything we do, say, or act upon. In 1793, the phrase was used in the US Supreme Court "to describe something that was not literally accurate but correct in the political field."
What we want to do here is remove "everything we do, say or act upon." PC has a much more limited space than that.
I'd say that the term refers in general to society, and society is run by politics; but other than that, it has become a catchphrase we cannot escape. So political correctness is tied up in the politics of the day, and in society in general. PC attempted to equalize the economic playing field with affirmative action, and then, hey, it worked, we can get rid of it now. "Look how far blacks have come since Obama was president." Really? Are the jail ratios equal now?
Obama's failures, however, were more related to the growing Tea Party influence (read: racism) on the GOP, who decided they would make him a one-term president by not working with him on anything.
Conservatives in the GOP were okay with PC if it worked in their favor. But PC attitude is now considered liberal, or leftist. Note this from Conservapedia.com:
The modern politically correct movement began at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is one of the most liberal colleges in the United States. Political correctness is a liberal degrading of the freedom of speech. Words or actions that violate political correctness are called politically incorrect. At American universities, liberals began imposing political correctness to prevent recognition of differences [stereotypes] among gender, religion, belief system, sexual orientation and nationality.
In the 1960s, feminists began to demand that the neutral pronouns he, him and his be replaced with expressions like "he or she", "him or her", "them", etc, even though the last one is actually grammatically incorrect. They argued that no one would be able to understand that the masculine gender included the feminine gender in neutral contexts. But this was just part of their campaign to redefine the social roles traditionally associated with masculinity and femininity.
Note this negative attitude toward affecting our freedom of speech. Can we have freedom of speech when words like "coon" or "nigger" or "spick" are taboo? Of course we can. But we can't have freedom of speech if we use the word "human" in place of "man?"
Listen, the word police are not going to arrest you for using the words you want. You may get shunned or lose friendships, but no jail time. Learning to think non-stereotypically is a matter of attitude and good taste. Yes, it's PC to eliminate some words from our vocabulary. We can be annoyed by political correctness, but our annoyance isn't the same as someone else's annoyance. We're all annoyed by different things. There's no pleasing everyone, as the saying goes. Understand why we don't use those words anymore and go eat a hot dog.
Today "Make America Great Again" seems to say, let's go back to the 50s. The GOP are fearful of the rise of women in the marketplace, and decry changes in our language, like using "she" when we talk about soldiers. They are now trying to rob women of choice and seem to indicate that it's okay to rape them. "Isn't that God's will, too?" No! The #MeToo movement took some bites out of that, but women accuse Trump of harassment and nothing happens. "Make America Great Again" refers back to a time that didn't exist. America … I mean the U.S. … was never great. We realize that when we pick on old media for encouraging rape and violence. But erasing that old media does not change history.
It is "not cool" to say that any group of people is too lazy to get a job, or all blacks are on welfare, all immigrants are abusing the system, or women dress to get raped. It is good PC to recognize where our dialog crosses these lines—hardly a petty annoyance to assert that no one deserves to get raped. Rape is not protected free speech; although with recent abortion laws, it is starting to feel like rape is in vogue. It never was, by the way. Just in case you're wondering.
Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" series was cancelled after he alluded to the idea that President Bush knew 9/11 was going to happen—apparently, it's okay to be fired when you're against a conservative president. And then there's what happened to the Dixie Chicks for being anti-Bush. In a lesser known case today, back in 1969 the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was canned for being too political, anti-war and anti-Nixon. That's erosion of free speech. Trump yelling "fake news" at the media is erosion of free speech, especially when he's the fake one.
So how do we properly apply PC today?
There are a lot of words in history books considered offensive today, such as "half-breed." If we change the words in his books today, as one young educator advised, we are changing history. The term "half-breed" was used in the 1800s to identify someone who was half American Indian and half white. White settlers first headed west, as trappers or explorers, and they married Indian women. William Bent was one. His son Charly became a Cheyenne dog soldier and died a Cheyenne dog soldier. His son George worked with Indian agents as an interpreter. Half-breeds in the 1800s who were interpreters were considered valuable because they could understand both sides. If they became warriors, however, they would teach other Indians things like how to tear apart railroad tracks and set cars ablaze using coals from the engine.
Even half-breeds like George Bent, featured in the book "Halfbreed," were considered a nuisance when the army no longer had need of them. After the Little Bighorn, they were written out of Indian annuity rights; suddenly they didn't know where they belonged anymore. Indians married whites because they felt their offspring would give them leverage with the white world. But after the Little Bighorn, even this didn't work anymore.
Today's teachers, like those in my support group, seem unable to teach the real history of these words. If they let the kids read Mark Twain, they're afraid that they'll be reintroducing these words into today's conversations. All they need to do is to learn how to teach the history of these attitudes by showing the difference between what people knew then, and what we know now. We can talk about these attitudes if we do it the right way.
The other problem with my title, "Saga of a Half-Breed," is that I'm all European. So how could I write about an experience I could never understand? But that's the point of being a historian. We research a period in history that no one today has lived. Historical terms help explain the attitude of the time. If we understand the attitude that created those worlds, we can write about them. For Boone Tyler's world, he was raised by his white mother, and when he's set loose in the world, only gradually come to understand his Kiowa half. He's even memorized some Shakespeare and uses that to stay rooted in his mother's world. That's how a European can write about being a half-breed.
We need to understand our history as it was so we can learn from it. Unless we understand that, we will never use PC as intended. Consider the case of the Smothers Brothers. They were exercising a right they had to free speech on a national stage. That right was perceived by the government as a threat. (I watched the 2019 Golden Globes and everyone was so careful not to be political—that's degradation of free speech.) Before the Smothers Brothers were removed, protests against the war increased; Johnson received criticism and wouldn't run for another term. Their show was cancelled early in Nixon's first term, and Nixon cheated to get a second term. Let's learn from that and erase cheating from our elections.
Feeling superior to another race is an attitude created by a stereotype. Waving a Nazi flag today is an attitude. Believing all people are equal is an attitude. PC is a device that only serves us by removing stereotypes and reminding us, as the Constitution tried to inject—all people are created equal. They didn't believe that, back then, because slaves were still slaves, and women had no place in government. But to try to erase Jefferson from our history because he was a slave holder is a case of taking PC too far. We can admire Robert E. Lee for being a great leader while wondering why he didn't just quit and free his slaves. But we didn't live back then. All we can do is try to understand—and change the stereotypes of today.
Of course, some people are going to resent the attempts. Most racists won't admit to being racist. They just want to see their John Wayne westerns still being made without all that politically correct (true history) junk.
Clint Eastwood made the movie "Gran Torino" because he "hates the so-called PC thing," according to Edition.CNN.com. The movie was about an old man who's a Korean war vet and an open racist. But he has a change of heart when he sees a neighborhood Korean boy being tormented by other boys, and comes to his aid. He learns that they are people, too. Getting to know people is the best way to get over racism and his movie demonstrated how a racist changed his attitude. Clint actually made the perfect PC movie while getting to spew his non-PC dialog.
Politically correct history is showing history as it really happened, not as it's been fed to us in school. We Uessens were taught patriotic history, which is clean and proud and lacking in shame—the Indians and everyone else got what they deserved. PC truth tells us, however, that Uessens aren't always the good guys. That takes a little getting used to. Our country's leaders made mistakes.
So what happened to my book? Thanks for asking. "Saga of a Half-Breed" became "Saving Boone: Legend of the Half-White Son." The publisher got mad because I refused to use the controversial title and told me that "Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-White Son" sounded like Daniel Boone. When I wouldn't change it, they completely ruined the cover. But they accepted the book after I told them why I was changing the title as a result of my presentation.
People have weird attitudes these days.
I still use the term "half-breed" in the dialog of the book because, for teaching our children what the world used to be like, they can see how much better the world is when we treat each other as equals. Okay, we're not there yet. But don't stop teaching Mark Twain just because you don't know how. Learn how. Use it as historical text. Show students what people were like that back then; explain why it was considered acceptable then, and why it isn't now.
Once we start figuring out what our history is really all about, we might even recognize those special times when eating people was okay, too. With the way we're screwing up our climate, people recipes could become vogue.