Being Politically Correct is Hard for Me

28 Nov 2017 Karina S. Henkel

Columbus Day is a national holiday, observed on the second Monday in October, which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. This year several cities and towns in Maine changed the name from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s day. That means that you are not supposed to call that day what the rest of this country or even the State of Maine calls it. No, people in these towns and cities have to talk about Indigenous People’s Day, not only in order to be politically correct, but also in order to be correct, at all. By coincidence I live in one of these towns and work in one of these cities. When I heard about that for the first time I was aghast. I made fun of it, but was gently and quickly corrected by my boss that this change of name might make sense to some people. My boss is the nicest and most understanding person I have ever met. And I felt quite guilty for being so insensitive making fun of indigenous people.

Being politically correct is very important for Americans. The history of slavery and all the different so-called minorities that live in the U.S. made people quite sensitive to language and behavior of and about people of non-European origin.

And who would have thought that this would be hard for me?

Although Andrew tries to teach me how to avoid the little language traps that could get me into trouble, I don’t seem to get it. Once in a while he says “Karina, it’s ok when you talk like that when we are at home, but you better not say things like that out there.”

That usually happens when I say things like: “This sounds like the song ‘Ten Little Indians’”, or “Africans are good runners,” or “I am turning yellow because I am so envious”, or “The black guy over there …”

Students got in trouble because they had a party with the theme “Mexico”. They had Mexican food and booze and dressed in big Mexican hats and ponchos. That was seen as racist behavior. Kids are not allowed to dress as Pocahontas, the American Indian princess, on Halloween because that could be seen as an offense to the Native Americans. I heard that, years ago, French fries and French toast were renamed “Freedom fries” and “Freedom toast” in the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria (although that was because of France’s opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq in 2003).

I totally understand that it is important to change old language habits because language is the first step in creating new images. But sometimes I am a little overwhelmed by these changes. But who am I to judge whether these changes are exaggerated or not? I was never part of a minority. I have no clue how that feels and how certain words can be hurtful.