Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pleeze forgeeeve me…

…for speakin’ een your face, Senorita.”*

Using quotes from a soon-to-be-released political book, the e-zine Salon quotes Nevada Senator Harry Reid saying, in 2008, that candidate Obama as a black man "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one” could be elected to the White House.

Such a brouhaha has arisen.

My Deep South, East Texas, Southwestern Louisiana childhood informs my response to this kerfuffle:  it’s a tempest in a truthful teapot.  *The quote is from very popular radio program in the 1940s.  It’s a worker on one of the Judy Canova radio shows; it was his signature entry speech.  It got laughs every time he delivered it.  It was a popular radio show using dialects as a comic tool.

Does anyone think for a second that if Mr. Obama’s voice was similar to that of Jessie Jackson’s or Stepin Fetchit’s that he would be the President of the United States today?  Surely he would have been dismissed out of hand.

We have built-in vocal biases that we work to overcome.  We deal, although not always honorably, with Southern accents, Appalachian accents, Boston accents, Brooklyn accents, and “Ebonics” (remember that?), just to name a few.  Each one of those accents give background to how we respond to what is said.  Some responses are positive, others not so much.

What Senator Reid said, and remember, it was a private conversation, makes perfect sense to me.  The President’s rhetorical skills and cultured voice and diction went a long way to assuaging the American public that he was not a figure to be feared.  That allowed many to overlook racial and class barriers and to cast their votes as they did.  (Just how many did not are legion and have kept up the yammering are there for the world to see on a daily basis.)

Political correctness was better for the nation when it was conscientious awareness.  Those were the days when you tried not to be offensive out of respect for fellow human beings.  Nowadays we’re pilloried for forthrightness which is not soaked in pablum.

Let’s get real.  Let the good Senator work on real problems without distraction.

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