Dallas, TX –
Today's clich goes that, after electing Barack Obama, America has entered a post racial' era. I suggest instead that we've enrolled in minority sensitivity grad school. Where, not unlike studying another language, when the challenge becomes conjugating those irregular verbs, we're mastering the minefield of multi-cultural idioms. Learning an enlightened etiquette that addresses the diversity within diversity.
There's no defending insidious political correctness where the opportunistic and predatory routinely snare and skewer anyone for self-serving sport. But let's not negate a larger truth: that a broader understanding of others is any student of life's ongoing education. That flying in formation exclusively with one's own flock is the HOV lane to becoming an endangered species. Meaning: The willfully blind get woefully blindsided. Trust me; not everyone renouncing some perceived slight or slur deserves to hear a defensive dismissal that they're being overbearing, oversensitive. Or overreacting.
Nor does knowing a few Jews make one ready for prime time in Tel Aviv. Someone's Latino so you assume they like Mexican food? Never mind he's from Colombia and spicy anything hardly exists there so hold the picante, por favor. She's from India. Don't presume she loved Slumdog Millionaire. Or speaks Spanish.
Gay stereotypes? Meaning the urban male who actually saw Mariah Carey's movie Glitter? Or next door's National Guard lesbian on her third deployment to Iraq? Perhaps the goalie on the Latvian World Cup soccer team, now managing a Dollar Store in suburbia with his partner?
Women are hardly some exotic enigma but cavemen still think so. A colleague is flustered; unable to impress his female manager. In his time-warped mind, women are ex-wives or step-sisters. I suggested he update his resume after learning he calls his boss hon'. If he's still grappling with the verbal protocol of female authority in 2009, he's Melba's toast.
African Americans? Still painted with a narrow brush even though it's pretty easy to not confuse Gwen Ifill with Lil' Kim. I gave three strangers, who had just missed their bus and were, yes, black, a ride to their intended stops. "It was about to rain", I explained. My friend, who voted for Obama, said "You could have been killed." I mentioned that potential murderers seldom come armed with Minyard bags of bulging groceries. "You never know", she said. Well. No. But I know more than she.
We are our own worst enemy when we expect others to understand what we meant by what we said while making absolutely no effort to comprehend what we said meant to them. Not to be confused with the officious jackals who tell you what you "meant". I know what I meant. Like knowing not to call people from Costa Rica "Mexicans". Or belching sulfuric gas like the gasbag at our homeowner's meeting. Speaking to the black city councilperson, she gushed describing Michelle Obama as a "lovely and accomplished negress". The last time I coughed that hard, I was tested for tuberculosis.
Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.
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