About 30 years ago my undergraduate alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, changed its mascot from the Hurons, a local native American tribe, to the Eagles.
The university was responding to a small but very vocal group complaining that the use of the name, “Hurons,” was offensive to the tribe. Never mind that the river flowing through campus, a national forest and one of the nearby Great Lakes were, and remain, named after the same native tribe — the Huron.
I never found a cogent case made for why the university’s use of the Huron name was injurious or insulting to the tribe, but using the tribe’s name for the river, forest and lake was not.
What determines whether the use of a name is an honor or an insult? And why would broader society feel compelled to accommodate any such determination that is not clearly based on rational justification?
That some people are easily offended and ready to perceive insult when there is no injury is not reason to acquiesce to their demands.
Nevertheless, in America’s current condition of collective contrition over race, ignited by the final-straw killing of George Floyd, almost any demand will receive serious consideration and have a good chance of being granted by guilt-ridden whites — shame stoked by race warriors like Robin DiAngelo. Her book, White Fragility, has become the catechism for white flagellants flailing themselves over white privilege.
The bonfire of outrage fueled by white guilt makes a perfect pyre for incinerating reason. The asinine bowdlerizing and euphemizing of American language to appease the “offended” is a clear example of this.
A Bay Area school district is considering renaming all of its schools currently named after U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, to something less likely to offend amorphous political or cultural sensitivities.
Lincoln? Maybe the district doesn’t want to offend the Ku Klux Klan.
The NFL team in Washington, D.C. has been bludgeoned by the cudgel of political correctness into finally surrendering its mascot name, Redskins, because some people consider it offensive to all native Americans — even though there are many native Americans who say they are not offended by the mascot. Other institutions represented by native American mascots are under similar pressure.
Looks like my alma mater was presciently politically correct — well ahead of the cultural curveball.
Recently, NPR aired a discussion about culturally insensitive language in which, with all solemn seriousness, the word “master” was condemned as racially detrimental because for blacks it evoked the history of the master-slave relationship in antebellum America. Proposals were made to find culturally benign euphemisms for the word. For instance, master bedroom would be replaced by main bedroom.
OK then. Now we only need to find euphemisms for: master’s degree, master-at-arms, master sergeant, master key, master of ceremonies, postmaster, and lots of other commonly used words and phrases with “master” in them.
No doubt, the masterminds of political correctness will figure all this out and publish a masterwork dictionary that expunges any insensitive words or idioms that might offend anyone. Meanwhile, they could always refer to “master” as the “M-word” to avoid turning into a pillar of salt if the actual word ever dared slip their lips.
Culture warriors always seem to be in a state of perpetual peeve, angrily agitating for their cause and always finding something that offends them. And worse, they insist on total capitulation to conformity of their views.
When 153 liberal celebrities signed an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine warning that the left’s culture warriors’ insistence on absolute conformity was as oppressive and dangerous as McCarthyism, the pyromaniacs of political correctness quickly and viciously castigated them as privileged elitist heretics.
Common-sense Americans might apply Isaac Newton’s third law to all of this: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction — the ludicrous left is equally as preposterous as the ridiculous right. Both tie down every issue confronting our nation onto a left/right ideological rack and stretch it to tortured absurdity. Racism is one such issue.
While racism is profuse in America, it is not systemic in that a person of color can never succeed in any field of endeavor to which he or she aspires — even to the presidency. There are far too many instances of such success, many notable, to sustain the claim of absolute, pervasive exclusionary racism.
There are, however, considerable persistent negative attitudes about race among enough Americans that perpetuate conditions of fear, mistrust, unequal opportunity and, clearly, unequal justice. But, this will not be overcome by superficial placations like renaming schools, taking down monuments, replacing mascots or purging language of words anyone finds offensive.
New paint on rotten wood doesn’t repair the structure, it only masks the problem.
When a black family can move into the house next door to a white family and the latter feels no discomfort or urge to move away, we’ll be past racism. When employers consider the résumés of Jamal and Jerry without reservations about Jamal, we’ll be past racism. When a white kid brings home a black friend and the parents’ only concern is the quality of character of their child’s new friend, we’ll be past racism.
When skin color is no more or less remarkable than eye color, we’ll be past racism.
What needs to happen for America to get past racism has been underway for some time now, and accelerated by the national response of righteous anger by Americans of all races after the George Floyd killing.
Most all of us have had it with racism and recognize that there needs to be a unified pan-racial effort to perfect America’s fundamental credo of equal rights, justice and opportunity for all people.
That effort begins with all of us — in our conscious contemplation and recognition of right and wrong.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.