I love reading all the antics of the ‘politically correct’, and it seems like 2006 will be a good year for it. Although in a sense I feel outrage at the whole nitpicking stupidity of political correctness, it sparks hilarity in me and the world would be a much duller place if people were more sensible.
David Howard got into trouble for being niggardly with his vocabularly
One of my favorites was the ‘niggardly scandal’. This classic from 1999 is about an aide to the Mayor of Washington DC, David Howard, that used the word ‘niggardly‘, a word that means stingy, in a conversation about the city’s tight budget with other city aides, one of whom was black.
From the Washington Post -
David Howard, a top aide to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, resigned last month after being criticized for saying the word “niggardly” during a meeting with two city employees. Howard’s resignation, and Williams’s decision to accept it, raised questions about whether the mayor acted too hastily and fueled discussions across the nation about appropriate word usage. A look at the key dates in the Howard situation:
Jan. 15: In a discussion of how little money his office would have to serve residents, Howard, the head of the mayor’s constituent services office, tells two associates that he’ll have to be “niggardly” with his agency’s budget. Niggardly, meaning miserly, has no racial connotation, but soon rumors begin spreading among some city workers that Howard had used the “N-word.”
Jan. 25: Howard offers his resignation to Williams, who accepts it, citing the District’s sensitive climate for race relations.
This situation provided for much editorial hilarity, like this one from US News -
A waspish, niggardly slur
The nonimpeachment story of the last week of January was the controversy over the word “niggardly.” David Howard, a white mayoral aide in Washington, D.C., used the word in conversation with a black official, who took offense because he felt that niggardly, which means miserly or cheap, was a racist term. Howard offered his resignation, which was accepted by Mayor Anthony Williams. The mayor explained that although Howard didn’t say “anything that was in itself racist,” using a word that could be misunderstood was like “getting caught smoking in a refinery with a resulting explosion.”
The resignation of Howard was, of course, a shock and a tragedy but it had a good result too. It sensitized us all to the hidden and hurtful ethnic slurs that darken–oops, sorry–that afflict American life and allow the wily perpetrators to get off scot free–er, without any punishment at all.
That’s why in February and March of 1999, America’s alert press corps turned up a staggering number of coded insults. For example, at a fancy dinner in Washington, the British ambassador called the Japanese ambassador a “jolly good chap,” exactly the kind of sly detraction that no one would have noticed before the consciousness-raising Howard case. Luckily, a savvy columnist pointed out that “chap” is unmistakably close to the insulting word “Jap,” so the British ambassador was recalled and is now serving as second assistant to the operations director of the Liverpool sewage works.
But all turned out alright because of the negative reaction by columnists and commentary on the internet (yay, internet power!).
But columnists and commentators pounced on the incident as yet another example of the ludicrous state of politics and race relations in Washington.
Williams, who is black, had promised to bring a new era of respectability after decades of excess under his controversial predecessor, Marion Barry. But Howard’s resignation led to accusations that the new mayor was kowtowing to remnants of the Barry regime.
Both aides who heard Howard use the word “niggardly” were holdovers from the Barry administration, and one was a candidate for the job Howard was given.
“The recently completed review of the incident confirmed for me that Mr. Howard did use the word ‘niggardly’ but did not use a racial epithet,” Williams said, adding that the employee who complained misunderstood Howard to have use a racial slur.
David Howard has learned his lesson too.
As for Howard, he says that in the future, he’ll use the word “parsimonious” instead.
Which brings us to our Christmas 2005 rogues gallery
Made a funny political statement but lacked the foresight to see the consequences. A disability in my book
This one might even be funnier than the niggardly scandal.
SALEM — Former state Sen. Neil Bryant has withdrawn his name from consideration for a state board appointment after apologizing for writing “white/male” on a form asking if he had a disability.
Bryant said Tuesday that he told Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week that he had made the notation in an attempt to be humorous, but he wound up kicking himself.
“I sincerely and profoundly apologize for any discomfort I have caused,” the Bend attorney wrote in a letter Thursday withdrawing his name. “No one is to blame but me.”
Kulongoski had nominated Bryant for the Oregon Health & Science University board earlier this year. Bryant said he filled out paperwork in the summer, and the Oregon Senate was expected to approve his appointment next month.
The three-page form from the governor’s office asks for information on gender and ethnicity to assist the state in meeting its affirmative action objectives. It also asks the candidate to indicate whether he or she has a disability.
“I responded ‘white/male,’ ” he explained in his letter to Kulongoski’s office. “I did this to be humorous. I did not qualify for any affirmative action objectives on the form. I should have simply responded ‘no.’ ”
After Kulongoski was told of the wording, he and Bryant spoke by telephone Thursday.
“His first question was, ‘Neil, what were you thinking?’ ” Bryant said.
Bryant faxed his apology to the governor’s office that day, said Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for the governor.
“They had a conversation, and both agreed it was in the best interest at this point to withdraw his name,” she said.
The Oregonian pontificated that what he wrote was not funny, but offensive.
There’s no defense for former state Sen. Neil Bryant’s attempt at humor on a state affirmative-action form. Responding to a question asking if he had a disability, he wrote “white/male.”
Some no doubt think that’s funny, but it’s not. It’s offensive to a great many people, and Bryant ended up apologizing for it, as he should have.
That should have been the end of the matter.
Inexplicably, it wasn’t. The faux pas cost Bryant an appointment to the board of Oregon Health & Science University. He had to withdraw his nomination after being taken to the woodshed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
There are various reasons why this is simply hilarious. The first is that this was a clever political statement. By writing ‘white/male’ on the part of the form designed to help fill affirmative action quotas, he was making a subversive political statement against racial preferences. I dont see how this statement could be considered offensive either – to who, for what?
Mr Bryant did make some errors however. His biggest one was not being able the predict the kind of reaction that he would get in the politically correct environment in America (and indeed, most western countries). That level of impolitic itself might be thought to disqualify him. The other thing was that after being criticised, he tried to represent it as ‘a joke’, and not the incisive and funny political statement that it was. By calling it a joke, he made himself a target for people that say what he wrote was inappropriate and unprofessional – which it is, if it is simply ‘a joke’.
Some people might say that it is crazy to suggest that white males could be disadvantaged by affirmative action considering that the majority of the elite are white males. Sure, minorities and women are not in most of the top positions in society, but neither are 99.99 percent of white males. Some white males certainly have institutionlized advantages (think George W. Bush), but this is the result of their class and socioeconomic status, not their skin color. The existence of the so called ‘white trash‘ certainly shows that there are millions of white people that are somehow unable to reap the benefits of ‘white privilege‘, the conference of which is supposed to be automatic.
I dont think that Bryant should get the job (which is an unpaid position anyway) – no one that jokes on their application should expect to get the job. But it was funny, and it was a political statement. It was also the unvarnished truth – for purposes of affirmative action, being white/male is a disability. He should have had some more backbone, and stood by his words.
These kinds of things are hilarious. I find it much more productive to ‘take the piss‘ out of the politically correct rather than getting angry about things. In the end, humor and satire will win over heated debate.