Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is it “aphrodisiac” or African American Disiac?

I was watching reruns of “Two & Half Men” the other day where the adorable kid, Jake brings up the interesting and delicate issue of “political correctness” aka the title of this blog.

Okay, I grew up in a culture where you told it like you saw it. There was no sugar coating or time spent on cogitating about the right words. The notion of “It would hurt someone’s feelings,” was unheard.

One of my best friends, who has green eyes and light-colored skin (I am not referring to Aishwarya Rai, in case you Bollywood starved readers, like me, are wondering:- ), was told by her father that she looked like “white shit.” The words of wisdom weren't shared in a derogatory tone; it was more like “as a matter of fact.”

One extreme: In South Asian culture, commenting, assessing, and analyzing another person’s physical traits are never condemned, especially if you are a woman of marriageable age. Hell, the matrimonial columns flaunt rigid physical requirements (caste and community specific at times). Most people want women who are tall, slim, and fair to guarantee good looking future progeny. This unwarranted list of physical traits is bragged about nonchalantly.

The other end of the spectrum: As a debutante in the American Society, I was introduced to the world of “political appropriateness” in an unanticipated way. I am like Chatty Cathy, so in one of my conversations with a random store owner, I casually referred to “Native Indians” as “Red Indians.” His face turned white--like he had seen a ghost in broad daylight. I was bewildered by his response. Later that evening, I was told about the genius of “American opinionated rightness.” I should have said “Native Indians” to the store owner; Red Indians refers to their skin color.

I remember thinking, “How hypocritical! You chase people away from their land and make them relinquish their being, but this poor immigrant has to watch it.” I regurgitated what I was taught in school. South Asians find a sense of comfort in allocating color-related names to people. We never say blasé colors like “white, black, brown” etc. We have clear definitions in each color category.

A short tale: This friend of mine and I have the most unreserved conversations. He addresses me as the “Indian girl with an incomprehensible Indian accent.” He then shakes his head like a pendulum--reminiscent of how people in certain southern and western parts of India talk and continues to make fun of samosa. Well, I address him as “the fat, white boy from the Midwest on a staple diet of potatoes, who could never own even 1/1000th of my Indian brains or charisma.” Sometimes, I sing “Go white boy! Go white boy!” We both love our rapport. There is no malice whatsoever in our banter though I can smell activists a mile away trying to drown us in the world of “Gee that sounds abhorrent. How dare you!”

The layers of diplomatic American vocabulary inducted by sanctimonious, pseudo intellectuals, and guilt-ridden individuals are nebulous. Who truly gets them or even follows them without errors?

I am constantly under the pressure of what is an okay expression to use—the avant-garde word for house wife is “home maker”; “secretary” is now “personal assistant.” Should I say “African American” or “Black”? What if the person doesn't have an African heritage, like Barack Obama. Then what? My journalist associate confirmed that Associate Press recognizes the references to “Black” and “White.” Hmm. This clarification came from a “White,” sorry “Caucasian” woman, who for the most part is disliked by others around her.

I am not in favor of the South Asian apathy towards words but the American over protectiveness exasperates me at the same time. It’s de trop. Fear and scare tactics shouldn’t be the reason for human compliance.

The shackles of bigotry or human inappropriateness won't break unless people change their attitudes and become more accepting from within. Dousing everything with “politically language” doesn't solve the core of the problem.

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.04.2008

“How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say”— Oscar Wilde


Vizzy said...

Liked it...

R said...

New look to the blog!

Afrodisiac said...

Interesting posts you have here ... I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your blog. I'm sure I'd visit here more often.
from aphrodisiac.

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