Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Choosing Our Words With Respect

In the last month, Johnny Miller, Don Imus, and Dick Cheney all made the news for what were considered by many to be either racially or ethnically insensitive remarks. How each of them was handled by the media and the general public says a lot about us.

When I heard
Johnny Miller's remarks about runner-up Rocco Mediate during the recent US Open golf telecast saying that Mediate "looks like the guy who cleans (Tiger Woods’) swimming pool." and also saying that, "Guys with the name 'Rocco' don't get on the trophy, do they?" I can honestly say that I didn’t get worked up at all even being of Italian descent but figured sooner or later, he was going to have to apologize — which he did.

Since Miller’s apology said that the remarks about somebody named 'Rocco' were not ethnic in nature, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. But even if the remark was only in reference to his unique name, he overlooked the fact that someone with the name ‘Tiger’ has his name on the trophy along with a fellow born with the name
Eugenio Saracini who by the way, also won a few other golf tournaments — The Masters, British Open and PGA Championship.

And while I in no way want to see anything happen to Miller for those remarks, I can’t help but think that if he were to have said something insensitive about Tiger or any other person of color, he would likely have been fired on the spot instead of just having to give an apology. Which reminds me of happy-go-lucky golfing jokester Fuzzy Zoeller
who during a 1997 interview at The Masters, passed along some tongue-in-cheek advice for the next year’s Champion’s Dinner that Tiger Woods “..not..serve fried chicken next year..or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve." Being self-employed, he couldn’t get fired. But he did lose his two major endorsement deals that generated a great deal of his income.

As for Don Imus, he did eventually lose his job last year over his
racial comments on the Rutgers women’s basketball team and is in hot water again for what are perceived as racial comments on football player Adam "Pac-Man" Jones. How this will turn out is still up in the air as of this posting, but Al Sharpton is again lurking in the background deciding whether to again mount a campaign to get Imus fired.

Dick Cheney also made a comment early this month saying "So we had Cheneys on both sides of the family — and we don't even live in West Virginia." But
Cheney's insult inferring that a group of people practices incest apparently didn’t even rate an apology.

Is there something wrong with this picture? I think so.

While political correctness can be maddening enough to many of us, the dramatic inconsistencies in the way it is applied makes it even worse. So what causes these admitted double standards? In my view, it comes down to who we or the media fear reprisal from the most. Nowadays, a number of groups have the ability to cause serious havoc by way of demonstrations and boycotting. For someone offending blacks, there are publicity hounds Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, along with the NAACP and others to raise hell and get negative attention for the object of their wrath. For those who practice sexism, there are enough feminist groups to go around there too. And so on for other groups. Making fun of Italians might have gotten NBC into enough hot water to at least make them want to offer an apology just in case which is what of course Johnny Miller did.

But when it comes to people like rural Americans or yes, even swimming pool cleaners who don’t have a publicly active group to support them, insensitivity to them seems to become a non-issue. This is why our outrage over issues like discrimination seems so terribly selective. For example, if someone from a protected minority suffers discrimination in the workplace, laws along with a group representing the minority affected are in place to try and protect this person. But if someone else in the workplace is suffering from workplace discrimination for reasons not having to do with being a protected minority, nobody really cares.

I have a simple but admittedly idealistic solution to all of this. Maybe, just maybe, we should all try to adopt the attitude that each of us has worth as a human being that is no better or worse than anybody else. OK, people like Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler make this a stretch but stay with me on this one. I’m not just talking about people of different races and ethnic backgrounds but also where they are on the social/economic ladder. Yes, we can respect great golfers like Tiger Woods while recognizing that the world also needs people to do the less glamorous but still necessary jobs like cleaning his pool. Human nature being what it is, we will still have the need to occasionally criticize or poke fun at one another. But if we would all make more of an effort to choose our electronically sent words to be the same ones we would use if speaking to that person face-to-face, we would all be a hell of a lot better off!

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