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Real Life Terms and Connectors v. Natural Language

June 5, 2007

           Too often I’ve heard people use terms interchangeably without truly questioning what they mean or what their connotations are.  For example, some people will read this and say he’s using the race card.  But have you ever, in your dogmatic use of a term to which a laymen probably couldn’t explain its origin, tell me why you would say that?  I wrote this post because I constantly come in contact with people who use words like “urban” seemingly as a synonym for black.  Growing up I always thought being urban meant being born and raised in a city, but now I hear people say “Urban Music” or “Urban Culture.”  To me, this is just a way of saying black music or black culture without getting a sideways reaction.  What’s next?  So if I like Kelly Clarkson does that mean I’m trying to act white, or according to the new trend, “trying to act Rural?”

           In addition, “diverse,” has become a backwards way of calling someone a minority.  Why is it that I’m assumed to be “diverse” simply because I’m black?  I mean, I could have grew up in the suburbs, never had a hardship in my entire life, yet when I apply for a job or to a school there’s a host of assumptions of me growing up “tough” or being “street smart” just because I’m black.  Diversity should mean what it meant when I was a kid and that means being a person that brings a different perspective.  Another one of my favorite terms that is constantly overused is “tolerance,” which is being toted as a goal for most employers and institutions, even though I’ve always thought that it was a way of saying to minorities, gays, lesbians, and those transgendered, “Hey, even though we’re not completely comfortable with you and we won’t include you in any of our social events, because we don’t necessarily hate you, we’ll be good and ‘tolerate’ you being around.”  I know that was a little harsh and extremely sarcastic statement to make, but even though I know that most of these programs are good natured and only intend to be positive, every time I hear these terms my ears ring and I can’t help but feel like I’m the only person who notices the elephant in the room.

          The problem is most employers and institutions aren’t really interested in understanding what issues “diverse” people are concerned about.  The simple fact is, from a liability standpoint, they just want to know what is politically correct and accepted at large, so they’re not made out to be the bad guys, which I understand.  But if you want to appreciate the level of analysis and reflection I expend on a daily basis, then try to understand the millions of situations I encounter, which requires me to do a cost-benefit analysis in my head.  There aren’t many black and white situations of overt racism or discrimination, but there are plenty of situations where I may feel uncomfortable about a certain comment or remark, yet I have to think to myself, “Is it worth it to say that comment left me a little unsettled?”  Or, “I wonder if he was just joking when he said that?”  You see, I have to do this cost-benefit analysis because I don’t want to be seen as the over-sensitive militant black panther guy who can’t take a joke.  I CAN!!!  However, I am very aware of history, social attitudes, and my race, so I may voice my opinion when warranted.

          The danger posed to most minorities is that we don’t want to be the gadfly or the annoying person in the office who wants to make everything about him or her, which is why I fear the label of someone who uses the “race card.”  That label carries so much weight in my eyes because someone is implicating that my race, my identity, my sense of being, is so trivial that it is comparable to 1 of 52 cards in a deck.  Not to mention the fact that the person is insinuating that I am overreacting because I do not share the same widely perceived attitude of one of their friends who may happens to be of the same race.  (Just to let you know, minorities don’t have a conference and determine what is ok and what’s not).  I’m sorry, but I’m an individual and I may feel differently about certain matters than…Oh lets say, the generalized view of an entire race.  In short, I’d like to say that despite the camera hungry actions of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who flock to every politically correct controversy, there is no one speaker for an entire race.  (Although I wouldn’t mind Obama.  I mean, that guy is clean and articulate).  Absent that infamous “speaker for all that is colored,” it’s good to keep in mind that everyone feels different about a particular situation just like your average Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish-American. 

          So when you’re at that mandatory meeting on cultural sensitivity and you hear one of those words like “tolerance” or “diversity” do what I do.  Chuckle and say to yourself, this “expert” has no idea what the hell they’re talking about.  Why?  Because you can’t learn proper race relations from a pamphlet.  You learn that by examining the little things in life, which you may typically ignore because you’re a member of the majority, so some issues of race aren’t even on your radar.  Once you’re able to do that and fully understand why some of these words might offend or make someone shake his or her head in disgust, then you’ll be able to think about the ramifications of their use and the unintended undertones to them, which have become forgotten in our dogmatic and copy cat society.              

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