The late comedian, Flip Wilson, was a frequent guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back in the 70s. On one occasion, Flip was being his usual irrepressible self, sharing several comedic soliloquies, which he was master of. That evening, Flip teased Mr. Carson and his audience about jokes and humor you really can’t say or tell anymore in public. Of course, being tongue-in-cheek about this warning, Flip went on to tell the story about a black guy who purchased a prejudice parrot from a local pet store. After receiving repeated warnings that the parrot was prejudice, the customer purchased the bird. Subsequently, the guy took the parrot home in its cage, and looked the parrot in the eye and mimicked the familiar phrase, “Polly-wanna-cracker”. The parrot upon hearing this turned its back and said nothing. The black guy strolled to the other side of the cage and repeated the phrase, ”Polly-wanna-cracker.” Once more, the parrot didn’t respond. At this point, the guy was getting perturbed, that the parrot wouldn’t talk and was concluding that he was sold the bird under false pretenses. The owner continued to circle the cage, and the parrot still proceeded to twist its back. The guy once more echoed the phrase, this time more vehemently, “Polly-Wanna-Cracker!” But this time, the Parrot vigorously flapped its wings and bellowed, “Nigger-wanna-watermelon!” Flip immediately made a perfunctory apology to Johnny and the audience, glibly saying; but you do understand Johnny, that nowadays, you can’t tell jokes like that anymore.
In today’s America, with the ascendency and dominance of PC culture, many us have found ourselves unwitting charter members in the Church of the Perpetually Offended. Blacks and radical gender feminists have their cache of terms, phrases and/or situations, where they have been systematically conditioned to feel grievously injured, agitated, set-upon, or blatantly discriminated against. Latinos, the LGBTQ community (or what comedian Dave Chapelle recently defined as the Alphabet People), nurture and brood a collection of terms, semantics, and situations that offend them. PC or what is currently referred to as “woke culture”, has placed our entire society on pins and needles, leaving us less communicative as a nation, than back in the so-called bad-old-days. That is to say before the cultural enlightenment brought to you courtesy of the cultural left, our schools, the neo-liberal political class, too many Democrats, and the MSM. All have been the chief purveyors of what is little more than censorship masquerading as cultural sensitivity. The progenitor of this pervasive, hypersensitive, ill-liberal atmosphere, that has invaded all aspects of American culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era, has been the Liberal Progressive canon of Multiculturalism and Cultural Diversity. These now-ubiquitous terms have turned out to be toxic tribalism and balkanization, touted up as congeniality. We, that is Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Women, Moslems, along with the Alphabet People, have been encouraged, if not manipulated, to sit and fester in our hyphenated, socio-cultural enclaves, waiting to be offended by God knows what. “Isms” abound everywhere.[i]
Just ask yourself, could movies like Blazing Saddles be made today. Its conspicuous use of the word “Nigger” was skillfully used to both to illicit a humorous reaction, while at the same time poking fun at racism in the Old West. In the original Star Trek series, Dr. Leonard McCoy’s non-pc rants at Mr. Spock, about him being “a green-blooded… pointed-ear hobgoblin”, would not be written into scripts of today’s Hollywood culture.
Because we were not “excruciating susceptive” about ethnic humor, we could relax and find enjoyment in movies like Blazing Saddles or Dr. McCoys’ unfiltered polemics at Mr. Spock. Today, with the exception of the program South Park, with its copious uses of racial, gender and national stereotypes which equally satires everyone. We have lost the ability, as a society, to poke fun at ourselves. The maxim, “avoid zealots, they are generally humorless” needs to be relearned by many Americans, irrespective of race, gender, religion or national origins.
Shutting people up or socio-political intimidation by the cultural left has muted the natural give and take synergy in uncensored human interaction. As a result, we really don’t communicate with one another as “flawed human beings.[ii]” This lack of genuine communication has been incubated for decades by the Progressive Left in our schools, the media and even from our Pulpits. The mind-set has equally served as an apocryphal attack on the First Amendment. Basic to the First Amendment is the right of every American to free speech. However, it never guaranteed the right to never be offended. Let me be as blunt as possible. Too many of us (mostly Progressive Liberal Democrats) have become an assemblage of fragile, hyper-sensitive, umbrageous, thin-skinned scolds. [iii]
Sidebar: A Brevis on Free Speech
The First Amendment protecting freedom of speech, among other rights, is somewhat unique to the United States. Canada, The UK, countries in the EU have great respect for the rights of its citizens, to say what they like. However, it is not enshrined as a constitutional right in their body-politics. In the EU, there have been several cases where the intellectual betters sitting on the Hague Court, as well as adjudicators in Brussels, have charged several politicians and/or right of center social activists, with discrimination against Moslems, because of some term or political observations, they made concerning the ascendency of radical Mosques and Iman’s throughout the EU. Recently, in ultra-liberal Canada, a popular “Liberal/Left of Center” radio host was censored by the courts in Ottawa and other officials for his very clement observations of “some” radical elements within the new immigrant populace.
These limits on expression in Canada and in the EU amount to an assault on free speech. In Canada as well in the EU, their definition of what constitutes for example “hate speech” or “incitement to violence” is so vague and nebulous, that it includes virtually anything deemed politically incorrect by EU authorities in Brussels, the Hague, or busy-body Progressive bureaucrats in Ottawa. Here in the United States, the political class has not totally abrogated the right to free speech like many of their Canadian and EU brethren. At least not yet, anyway. But there is a growing and very influential constituencies, within the current Democratic Party, who wouldn’t mind some “slight” exception to the dictates of the First Amendment. To them this is especially appropriate, when it comes censoring Donald Trump, many of his conservative, supposedly neo-Nazi, white nationalists, bible-clinging, gun-totting, anti-illegal immigrant, climate-denying-smelly-Wal-Mart supporters. Their First Amendment rights should certainly be tempered or palliated, so nobody, heaven forbids, gets offended, or hurt feelings.[iv]
Ethnic Jokes were Funny[v]
As an American, who happens to be Black, maybe I should stop eating Aunt Jemima Pancakes. As stated above, the secular hermeneutics of the Progressive left and unfortunately far too many Democrats and Republicans have encouraged people to be disgruntled, as well as look for racist/sexist implications in just about everything[vi].
Decades ago, in Seattle, my then employer, had the institute I was working for, attend a mandatory Weekend Workshop on Race and Gender. The facilitators of the workshop were a collection, local university types, Cultural Diversity experts, and school psychologists. Their goal was to instruct us into the enigmatic and inscrutable mysteries of implicit racial and gender bias. Also, I believe it was the first time that I heard the term “white privilege[vii]”, employed to describe those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be christened “Persons of Color”. On the second day of the workshop, the presenters preached an almost hagiographic polemic against the use of ethnic humor. Many of us listened patiently to the secular catechetics underpinning this egregious sin, and there were several “guilt-ridden-everything-is-white-peoples-fault” types who confessed their venial transgressions in this area. To make a long story short, in the hotel bar that evening, several of us, against the strict edicts of our intellectual betters, spent the evening trading in some very funny ethnic humor. Now, they weren’t quite as salty as Flip Wilson’s racist parrot story. But we had a good time relating openly and honestly about quirky, off-centered and sometimes bohemian race, ethnic and gender humor, we all grew up with. And yes! Many of these jokes employed stereotypes. But as an old Italian buddy of mine once opined, stereotypes could sometimes be viewed as observable human traits, that liberals don’t want to think about, much less admit too.
With the emergence of identity politics and cultural diversity tribalism, destroying all real communication among Americans, restraints on free speech or censorship has emerged as the clearest danger to those of us still seeking to uphold the importance of free expression in our Republic. College speech codes and safe spaces, frivolous but omnipresent lawsuit by groups, such as the NAACP, ACLU, NOW, Black-Lives Matters, The Southern Poverty Law Center, and the body politic of both Democrat and Republican Parties have all been complicit in limiting open speech, plebian dialogue and yes, the sometimes “messy and ambiguous nature” of real unfettered communication in a pluralistic society.
In retrospect, what really worked back in the bad-old-days is, that we were left to work things out. Everyday human interactions, natter, passing racial or gender slight did not become the stuff of ACLU, NOW or NAACP, lawsuits.[viii] Nor did it cause people to lose their jobs or careers.
Not to be overly phlegmatic, but we all need to rediscover as well as embrace our inner Prejudice Parrot, and begin to see one another first and foremost as the flawed and sometimes prickly creations of God, that we are.
[ii] See., Pitch Imperfect