Is it Politically Incorrect to not care if you’re Politically Incorrect?

Warning: This post is not intended for those who are easily offended, vigilantly politically correct at all times, or humorless.

It was recently brought to my attention that the term “mulatto” is outdated and offensive. I am embarrassed to admit that this came up because I used this term in general conversation to describe someone of mixed race. Furthermore, when told that the term is no longer used, I proceeded to stubbornly argue the point, conceding only after consulting Wikipedia, the final word on every topic. According to this (unverified but assumed true because it has millions of readers) source: “The term is not commonly used any more but is generally considered archaic because of its association with slavery, colonial and racial oppression; accepted modern terms include ‘mixed’ and ‘biracial.’” Got it.

Let me tell you a few things about me. As per the stereotype you have no doubt conjured up in your head by now, I’m white, blonde and blue-eyed. I’m a Canadian of Mennonite German ancestry. If you saw an extended family reunion you would think you were looking at a rehearsal for a ‘Children of the Corn’ sequel, there is hardly a brunette in the bunch. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the community of North Kildonan, which is mainly populated with descendants of Germans and Ukrainians who immigrated during or after WWII. In my German elementary school there was one black student named Stephan (pronounced with a German accent). He was adopted. He had dry skin on his legs that often peeled and because his skin was dark, it looked scaly, like a snake. When I pointed this out to him he cried and I had to apologize, though I didn’t think this was fair since it was merely an observation and I thought it looked neat-o. By high school I had met about 5 black or bi-racial people. My mother’s best friend has a son who is bi-racial. My mother referred to him as mulatto the rare time she didn’t just refer to him by his name which she usually did, because, well, why wouldn’t she? In Canada, black and bi-racial citizens comprise just under 3% of the population. In Manitoba where I grew up, the number is only 1.7% and in Vancouver where I live now it is only 1.3%. The numbers may actually be lower because the races are not reported for the bi-racial statistics. What I’m saying is that while Canada is extremely multicultural, and I have friends of many ethnicities, I don’t have many bi-racial friends who have 1 parent who is black and 1 who is white. I have 1. And I call her Tracy, because that is her name. So since I was a child and my mother used the term mulatto I have ignorantly assumed it was an appropriate term. My intention was not to harm, disrespect, oppress or dehumanize anyone.

Intent. The idea of the motive behind one’s action or statement is the crux of what has been nagging at me since my ignorance had me declared a narrow-minded racist. It may just be me, but people these days sure are sensitive. If you think me a bigot then you certainly wouldn’t want to meet my dear old Oma. She’s 87, goes to church every Sunday, loves everyone, and is the only person I know who has ever let a Jehovah’s Witness into her home, even going so far as to offer them baking and coffee. Yet a second cousin of mine had a child with a Jamaican man and my grandmother, unable to recall names very well, refers to him simply as “Der Schwarzer”. This translates to “The Black.” In fact, the East Indian man dating my father’s cousin is also referred to as “Der Schwarzer”, as is anyone with a skin tone darker than ivory, which can prove confusing at times. I’m not sure if she is using an outdated German term, perhaps akin to the English “negro”, or if she is simply describing what is obvious to her, that the baby does in fact look ‘black’, since she hasn’t left her Mennonite community since 1948 and it is quite possible she has never seen a non-white person. What I do know is that she means no malice, no matter how offensive her words may sound to someone who doesn’t know her. The same can be said about an elderly physician my fiancée worked with who referred to a patient with Down’s Syndrome as a “mongoloid”, apparently unaware the term was obsolete. In fact, I may have heard that the term ‘Down’s Syndrome’ is no longer en Vogue either, and if this is the case, forgive me.

Speaking of my fiancée, if he goes out for the night with all of his closest friends, it can almost be described as the beginning of a classic joke: “A white guy, a Jew, 2 Filipinos, a South African, a Lebanese, a gay West Indian, and a very white gay guy walk into a bar….”One night with these guys and you will have a lifetime of inappropriate, politically incorrect jokes that you will probably never find occasion to use. I have heard racial slurs I didn’t know existed and terms and uses for orifices that have given me nightmares. Hearing the Indian friend being referred to as “Dark Marc” out of context could seem segregationist, but knowing that in medical school there were 2 friends named Mark and that there was a need to distinguish between the two explains any question of prejudice away. I mean, tall Marc or brunette Marc or any other differentiating feature could have worked, but they wouldn’t have been as funny, and they certainly wouldn’t have RHYMED. I myself have a multicultural group of friends but we’re civilized to each other. Even still, the jokes, bantering and mock ridicule between this group of men is a form of camaraderie. Each of them gives as good as he gets and no one goes home demoralized or exploited.

When I was in elementary school I entered a writing contest. The topic was “The Boundaries of Freedom”. I came in second place, and I was so pissed off because I always wanted to be first. Any-whoo, my essay basically talked about how one person’s freedom should not impede another’s. For example, freedom of speech is important, however what you say should not get in the way of another person’s ability to live in a free, safe, and equal society. I bring this up here because I don’t think people should be able to say whatever they want. I don’t think there is any room in our society for racism, sexism or any other form of prejudice. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a utopian society, and there are bigoted people out there. These people should just learn to shut their mouths and keep their opinions to themselves. Then there are people like me. And my Oma. And my fiancée and his friends. We’re not perfect, we sometimes say inappropriate or potentially offensive things unwittingly, unintentionally or even in jest. But the intent isn’t evil or vicious. Sometimes we need to be educated, as in my case, but sometimes we are just having a little fun with friends. Maybe people need to take a step back and look at the battle they are trying to fight and who the enemy is. I don’t think it’s me. I hope it’s not you either.

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