Monday, January 11, 2010

Have We Gone Over the Top?

political correctness police

When is too far, really too far?

I recently made a comment on someone’s blog and afterwards I wondered if perhaps I’d gone too far. The topic was essentially ‘female stuff’ which included a light hearted look at weight. I made my serious comment and then added:

‘Did you hear the one about “your mother’ so heavy that when she stands on the scales it reads “to be continued’. The original joke is actually ‘your mother ‘s so fat’…………etc etc… but being aware that some readers may not see the funny side,I changed the wording in an effort not to offend them or the Politically Correct Brigade.

Then I started thinking which is something I do occasionally as ex 360 readers know! In an effort not to offend, have we gone too far? Are we taking some of the fun out of life? A friend of mine sends out e mails with a little note as a heading which reads‘at some point I will offend you’. I am on the whole, tolerant, somewhat irreverent and there’s very little that offends me when it comes to jokes which touch on race, age, colour , religion sex et al. At the same time, I know through experience there are some emails that cannot be forwarded to certain people so I refrain.

When Obama became President, there was one particular email circulating that I thought was hilarious so naturally, I wanted to share this classic which had come from a black friend. The picture was of a truck in Africa laden with boxes and suitcases. There were many people dressed in African garb hanging onto the vehicle, occupying every single space inside and out including atop  the luggage on the roof. The caption was something along the lines of “Obama’s relatives leave to join him in the White House’. Having lived in Africa I saw the scene vividly.People do hang onto the sides of all kinds of vehicles when there isn’t any room inside. They want to get from A to B and how they do it, matters not. For them , hanging on, jostling for a space or sitting on the roof is considered normal. We’ve all seen the pictures and this has nothing to do with race but everything to do with culture. I made the mistake of forwarding said email to another black friend. Not an online friend, not an online buddy but a have-met- and- known- for- years friend. A friend who knows my wicked sense of humour, my views on race, colour, creed and who also knows I would never intentionally hurt, offend or do anything to upset someone unless they piss me off. Even then I wouldn’t do any of the aforementioned. I would tell them ‘as it is’ as I have a reputation for being straight forward, speaking my mind and then, moving on. My late mother spent her whole life trying to tell me that I should keep my mouth shut and smile for the sake of peace. She failed! She also tried very hard to get me to stop bucking the system. Looking back I obviously tried to buck the system because I saw myself as a rebel of sorts and didn’t want to be seen as coming from a certain type of background which of course, was an exercise in futility! I digress. My friend was deeply offended and angry.  I  responded to her scorching return email as fast as I could with many apologies which she graciously accepted. I felt dreadfulthat I had upset her so badly but later when I had recovered from the shock of her reaction, I had to wonder that if the PC Brigade wasn’t so vociferous, would she have reacted in the same way? Also, apropos my response, had I unwittingly been conditioned by the PC Brigade?

These days in England, telephone lines to radio and television stations are jammed by offended callers when a comedian tells a joke about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman. I know and have told more jokes about those three than I have had hot dinners. Comedians are complaining because their material is now limited.They are no longer allowed to tell jokes about the three men which always makes the Irishman look the dumbest. They are no longer allowed to tell jokes containing anything remotely concerned with colour, race or religion. Quite amazing to me is the fact that blondes and Walmart shoppers haven’t joined the ranks of the PC Brigade given the amount of emails circulating throughout cyberspace which deride them unmercifully. And what about the man who wanted to buy a shotgun to shoot cans? Texans and Mexicans? There was a third ‘can’ but I can’t remember it.

I wonder if my family still lived in England whether or not the busy message my daughter used to have on her mobile would have had her arrested for being politically incorrect. “You have reached the Taliban. There is no one available to take your call at the moment as the Americans are bombing the shit out of us. Press 1 for Al Queda, 2 for Bin Laden…’ etc…………….

Having lived in quite a few countries in my time, I interacted from a very young age with people of all colours and creeds, from all walks of life with not a hint of going too far joke- wise whenever it came to any teasing in relation to our different backgrounds. And tease we did! So,twenty five years ago I was totally thrown by a guest in my home which at the time, was in the Ivory Coast. My husband and I were entertaining guests to lunch. Although there were some pretty impressive people there it was very casual and relaxed. A guest of African American descent whose husband had something to do with the United Nations asked if she could bring her aunt who was arriving that day from the United States and naturally the answer was ‘yes’. The aunt whom I‘d never met and thankfully never saw again, turned out to be one difficult guest.She had come directly from the airport and I was welcoming her into our home when my ‘wicked’ milk chocolate-drop husband with a gleam in his eye, joined us and asked her if she had ‘met my honky wife’. All hell broke loose! First of all he was berated in no uncertain terms by this loud-mouthed woman for showing such disrespect and then I too got it for allowing him to refer to me in such a degrading manner!! This woman had been in my home for less than ten minutes and had managed to create havoc. My husband had not offended me (it has been said over the years that our home should be the subject of a sit com!) so what was her problem? She was furious that I had laughed at his remark.I was dumbfounded or gob-smacked as they say in northern England by what I considered to be her rudeness. What made it worse for me was that she was the producer of Sesame Street and I wondered how she interacted with the children on the show and what unnecessary venom she spewed when she was around them. I never did find out but her niece apologized for the behavior and those multi-faceted guests who had witnessed the extraordinary scene, moved with glasses in hands, out to the pool in obvious disbelief. Talk about “How to Empty a Large Room in One Easy Lesson’!! It was the first time that I had ever come across anyone who was I later learned, a member of what was to become the PC Brigade. I did not like what I saw then and I do not like it now.

It’s got worse since then and I believe that nowadays people take themselves far too seriously and a great many of us have developed a distinct inability to laugh at ourselves. Stupid rules making it a chargeable offence to poke gentle fun at our fellow human beings without being offensive have been made by stupid people. I have visions of scattered groups of obsessive ‘citizens with a cause’ pouring over newspapers, listening to the radio , watching television and lurking in supermarkets in the hope of finding something that offends them so that they can make a complaint to the Race Relations Board, the Human Rights Organization and the like. Look what they did to the Robertson’s Jam Golly? When I was a little girl. I had the famous pin-on-badge. Have you any idea how many jars of jam and marmalade my mother had to buy so that I could collect the labels that entitled me to that prized possession? Look what they did to Enid Blyton’s Noddy books? Took them off the shelves with little warning because someone decided that the Golly was offensive and that Big Ears was gay! Well to those people I say, “What about my rights? What about my right to tell a joke? Want about my rights that may be seen by some as non-u? What about my right to tell members of the PC Brigade to naff off ? What about my rights in wanting some humour back in our lives without having to think about whether or not we may end up in front of a judge?

Sadly, gone are the days when one could tell a joke about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman without worrying who might report you to Big Brother. Gone are the days when you could tell a joke about a black man (unless you happen to be black), a white man and a Chinese man. Gone are the days when you could tell a joke about a priest and a rabbi. Gone are the days when you could tell a joke about a fat man and a thin man, about a Jamaican dubbed Chalky by his white comedian friend Jim Davies and about the Irishmen building a wooden space ship so that they could fly to the sun – at night!!

The do-gooders and the PC Brigade have definitely gone too far in many countries. They haven’t reached here yet. I hope they never do because apart from the politicians and people with ‘big jobs’ your average Trinidadian doesn’t mind laughing at himself – so long as he’s telling the joke!

Three Trinidadians working on the 26th floor of a building site: one of East Indian descent, one of European descent (French Creole) and one of African descent. Lunch time. The following conversation overheard by the foreman.

East Indian Trini: if ah get curry, roti an’ dhal one more time ah goin’ to trow myself off dis buildin’."
French Creole Trini: if ah get ham an’ cheese sandwiches one more time, ah goin’ to trow myself off dis building.
African Trini: if ah get stew beef, macaroni pie and green fig one more time, ah goin’ to trow myself offa dis building like allayuh too.

The following day the East Indian Trini opens his lunch box, throws it to one side and jumps off the roof.
His companions of the day before do likewise after opening their lunch boxes.

An hour later police, ambulance crew, television crew, radio crew, reporters  and three distraught wives on the scene. The foreman relates to the policemen and the wives the conversation that he had heard the day before, between the three construction workers.

East Indian Trini wife: 'if only he had said sometin’ ah’d give him sometin’ else.’
French Creole Trini wife: ‘he only had ta say sometin’ ah would’ve given him different tings ta eat.’
African Trini wife: ‘doh allayuh look at me – he makes his own lunch!’

So shoot me!


  1. We should all remember how to laugh at ourselves.

  2. The reason that society is incapable of addressing the racial issue is because we view it from a perspective which is not conducive to real analysis. We talk all around the fundamental, underlying reasons for racism, and make it an emotional issue. How does one expect to cure the cancer without focusing on the cancerous cells and the biological reasons for cancer? Focusing on the symptoms is an ineffective mechanism to employ. Racism serves a far more complex pragmatic function than we are generally willing to acknowledge.

  3. the minute we lose our humour we lose our souls ...

    good joke at the end by the way :D

  4. Bee, you are so right about the ridiculous ubiquitousness of the PC Brigade. I'm Irish and I happen to enjoy Irish jokes (you should hear some of the Irish nun-priest jokes...well, you probably have). Growing up my best friend was Hispanic - well, he still is, but we seem to have drifted apart - and we were always calling each other "Spic" and "Mick" and never meant a word of it. Our third friend was of Croatian descent, but since his last name ended in 'ski' he got all the Polish jokes. Today if a teacher had heard us going at it we would have been at least suspended if not expelled.

    Well, at least we have, for now, the refuge of our blogs and emails to people we (hopefully) know well enough to share a joke.

    (So, did you hear the one about the three doctors discussing their favorite types of patients...)

  5. I loved every single word of this post. The older I get the less I have patience for PC BS.

    Just to add to your list, I saw Avatar this weekend. What a visual and technological achievement. What a privilege for the actors who were able to participate.

    Naturally, some idiot had to ask the question "Is it racist?", bloviating on over some stupid notion that the accents of the Na'Vi were suggestive of race. Way to go, commentator. You sure know how to take the fun out of something that is really quite spectacular. Shockingly, more than a few people took the question seriously.

  6. Great post..
    If I had a dollar for every joke that was about Aussies I'd be rich.
    Fortunately we are a race that is well known for laughing at ourselves.
    However, even here we have to watch our comments as we are starting to be called racists by other countries who really just don't get us.
    It's a sad state of affairs when one has to watch every word.
    As far as comments made on blogs I feel that we are disadvantaged by not seeing the other person, as facial expressions and body language often makes the difference as to what is being heard.

  7. I quite agree. it is totally overboard now. As that one commentator said above about "Avatar" --I mena, come on. Get over it.

    Bee, I have heard this exact same joke but with a polish man as the last chap. Oh dear.

    your story in Ivory coast was so funny but not nearly as funny as your daughter's mobile message. OH too too funny.

    Well, I am not very PC when I say something is "so gay"--siad that the other day and some self righteous guy tried to correct me and i said, "well, everyone here knows what I mean, including you, so relax!" I was talking about man purses.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly. We need to preserve our sense of humour and not to take ourselves too seriously. We have had several occasions here in Australia where some local humour offended viewers in the USA. We still are not as sue-happy as the USA here and people are more spontaneous and will have a laugh (about themselves as well as about others).

    "Nothing is more curious than the almost savage hostility that humor excites in those who lack it." - George Saintsbury


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