This is not the promised sensible entry on political (in)correctness. But then, maybe it is.
I am PC so far as I try to judge the effect of my words, especially in a place like this which, while a species of vanity publishing, is nonetheless publishing. My hundred or so readers a day come from many places and backgrounds, and I do well to remember that. For example, while I worry at Islam in quite a few entries and am happy to offend bigots of any kind, I do not wish to alienate people of good will or to deliberately misrepresent ideas I may not fully understand or easily empathise with. People of good will are always welcome to correct me, and they do.
It sometimes strikes me that those most strident against political correctness, so-called, actually wish to surrender to their own dark side, and I am not sure that is such a noble aim after all.
I note that the “Chinglish” (or “Spanglish” or “Korlish” or “Franglais”) phenomenon as a source of innocent laughter can be a sensitive issue to some; Antony Shen is actually quite eloquent on that, though I really do think he may be taking it too personally. On the other hand, it seems, reading carefully what he has said, that he has been hurt himself by the reception his English errors — and these days they really are not all that serious — have received in some quarters. If I am working with someone I would never mock their errors to their face, no matter how funny they may seem, but would rather gently correct the error when that is appropriate.
At the same time, humour can save us all. I still recall a class of mainland Chinese I once taught rolling around laughing as one of the class members recounted his embarrassment when his faulty pronunciation of that terrible English sound TH caused him to request a dickshake at McDonalds… And it was real laughter too, not the Chinese cultural phenomenon of laughter to cover shame or anger. We spent the rest of that lesson getting that sound right.
Which brings me to this joke The Poet sent. Good to get a joke from The Poet instead of yet more evidence of the stupidity of Bush and his cronies and proof the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
A man boarded an aircraft at Heathrow and took his seat. As he settled in, he noticed a very beautiful woman boarding the plane.
He realised she was heading straight towards his seat and bingo! She took the seat right beside him. Eager to strike up a conversation, he blurted out, “Business trip or Holiday?”
She turned, smiled enchantingly and said “Business. I’m going to the annual nymphomaniac convention in the United States”.
He swallowed hard… Here was the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen sitting next to him, and she was going to a meeting for nymphomaniacs!
Struggling to maintain his composure, he calmly asked, “What’s your business role at this convention?”
“Lecturer,” she responded. “I use my experience to debunk some of the popular myths about sexuality.”
“Really”, he smiled, “what myths are those?”
“Well,” she explained, “one popular myth is that African American men are the most well endowed when, in fact, it’s the Native American Indian who is most likely to possess that trait. Another popular myth is that French men are the best lovers, when actually it is the men of Greek descent. We have also found that the best potential lovers in all categories are the Irish.”
Suddenly the woman became uncomfortable and quiet… “I’m sorry,” she said, “I really shouldn’t be discussing this with you, I don’t even know your name.”
“Tonto,” the man said… “Tonto Papadopoulos, but my friends call me Paddy.”
Now the word “nymphomaniac” is of course sexist: you knew that, didn’t you? But how seriously can one object to a joke like that without seeming a real prat?
On the other hand, on my Indigenous Perspectives page I quote a gay Aboriginal writer thus:
I continued to be confronted by ignorance and racism, and not just by strangers at dinner parties. ‘What do you call an Aborigine behind the wheel of a brand new car? A thief.’ This so-called joke was told to me by a friend, a girl I worked with. One day she came to me and said she had a joke, an Aboriginal joke; did I want to hear it? I said that I didn’t, explaining that I found Aboriginal ‘jokes’ offensive. But she went ahead anyway, because it was ‘funny’, and we had to be able to laugh at ourselves. I wanted to slap her in the mouth. I was so angry, I imagined strangling her, holding her by the throat with my hands and squeezing, slowly. I imagined playing God and telling her she was unfit to live. I wanted her to know the sadness, the disappointment, the hurt of betrayal.
Yet I knew she liked me: we helped each other out with work, lunched together, had long talks, joked and partied together. If she liked me yet could still treat me in this way, did that mean I couldn’t trust any of them? It was life on the razor’s edge–be friendly but cautious, they could turn at any time.
The racism was a burning pain that only alcohol and drugs kept in check. There were times when, without them, I knew I was a walking time bomb. Whoever says that booze and drugs are evil, spit in their eye. Except in my imagination, they’ve prevented me from killing many times. In spite of the volcano that was churning in the pit of my stomach, I remained as cool as a cucumber. I told the girl with her stupid joke that I was in Australia because my people had been here for more than forty thousand years. She, on the other hand, was here because her forbears were convicts. As such, the really funny part of the joke was her referring to Aborigines as thieves.
You must decide for yourself where you stand on such matters.
I have just had to come back to correct a subject-verb agreement error in this post. And then I realised I was correct in the first place! Beware of sentences where parenthetical information separates subject and verb. “Stupid bloody English!” — as M has said more than once. Why can’t we be sensible like the Chinese and have a grammatical system where this is not an issue!