Senior year of college, 1976.  As an education major, I had to take a class on Human Relations, newly required for all teachers by the state of Minnesota.  Our professor arranged for several guest speakers on the subject, covering many aspects in that field.

Being a senior seminar, the class met for two weeks, all day long.

A pair of ladies did a presentation regarding the Black Experience in America. They spoke to us over two days.  They were thorough, prepared and knowledgeable.  They presented history, philosophy, biographies, statistics, stories …. And then it came time for international politics and relations.

One of the ladies started speaking about the subject.  As she spoke, her eyes widened and her voice became more agitated and riled.  It seems she was totally offended that Shirley Temple Black had been appointed ambassador to Ghana.  Her reasoning?  In the movies as a little girl, Ms. Black had tap danced with Billy “BOJANGLES” Robinson, turning him into the stereotyped role of the black man in the movies of the day…. making him look like a servant, like an Uncle Tom…. Therefore, as far as this lady was concerned, ShirleyTemple’s dancing as a child movie star disqualified the adult Shirley Temple Black from any sort of work as being an ambassador to an African country.

I can still hear the lady’s angry voice, paraphrased here, but I think you get the idea…

“How dare she do such a thing!  Who does she think she is!  How horrible, how distasteful!  She has no place in such a position!  This is a slap in the face of the African American Community!”

She wanted to hold ShirleyTemple (who was maybe 8 years old at the time) responsible for all the ugly stereotypes attributed to African Americans.  An 8 year old.  Really?  I mean, really?

From that moment on, I quit listening to that lady and her partner.  Her anger seemed so far off base, so needless.  I still remember the tension in the lady’s face, the harsh tone in her voice, her body language and gestures that echoed what I heard in her voice.  Her credibility from that moment on fell off my radar.  In my young sensibilities of those days, this visiting presenter overdid it on the “Politically-Correct-O-Meter”.

I wonder if we’re seeing the same thing happen these days.  Are we getting too sensitive to our political correctness?  Are we making some of these incidents into mountains when at best they’re ordinary hills?  Have we, like the lady in my Human Relations class, burned out our logic filter when it comes to such things?

We have Paula Deen.  We have J Lo singing for a nasty dictator.  These are the recent suspects of bad taste, but there have been so many more.  Politicians say stupid things about reproduction.  Sportscasters say dumb things about athletes. (Remember Jimmy the Greek, who said something on air about how African Americans have longer ligaments in their legs, making them better athletes?)   A list could be made of all sorts of cases of people of using words that maybe aren’t the best choices.  What do we do with that?  Who is in charge?  The media?  The government?  Is it something that we need to teach in the schools?

Yes, some of these incidents are indeed deplorable.  Yes, some of them are fanned by the media.  Some of them (the words from the media, I mean) are truly justified…. And maybe some of them are overreactions.  Maybe some of the scoldings are just as out of line as the comments that first brought about the scolding.

The answer is simply this… we are each responsible for our actions AND our reactions.  We are each responsible for what comes out of our mouth.  I doubt there are any of us who have not used an epithet of some derogatory nature in the heat of the moment…. And that fact alone should implant itself in our heads, glowing brightly every time we want to burst forth with impassioned ‘How Dare That Person Say Such a Thing”, reminding us that we, too, have been guilty.  Chances are, too, that in the FUTURE, any of us may utter something stupid, putting us in the category of being chastised.

As for the reactions, we need to monitor our selves…. Is it okay to pop our cork when we hear something offensive?  Should we really be inflicting a verbal tirade about Alec Baldwin’s verbal tirades that he’s pulled off …or Mel Gibson’s tirades… or …. or… well, heck, pick your celebrity and your incident.  Seems to me that when we do that, it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

I don’t know why all this has come about.  In my childhood home of the Mesabi Iron Range of northeastern Minnesota, we have our names that would cause fights.  Dagos and Wops, Bohunks, Polaks…. Such terms caused fights often.  But guess what?  Mostly, people got along anyway.  They had to… they worked together, they worshipped together, they drank and partied together…so ultimately, a certain respect would eventually override those ethnic terms, allowing the community to go on.

Let me say that again… MOST PEOPLE GOT ALONG ANYWAY!

So are there fruits to being politically correct?  Yes, I’m sure there are.  Society needs to be scolded at times for its behavior.  But, we must also be sure that we don’t overdo it so much that we lose all sense of reality and good sense.  Let’s get back to that ‘certain respect’ that existed in my home area.  It is ridiculous to think that we’ll be at peace all the time…. let’s do what we can to minimize the reactions as much as we try to minimize our actions in the first place.

By the way, Shirley Temple Black did indeed serve as ambassador to Ghana… and to Czechoslovakia, and the United Nations and as chief of protocol at the White House.  Seems to me that was a pretty good diplomatic career.