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Research & Thoughts

Updated Political Correctness

In case you missed the first. This is preceding History Lesson #5 and is worth a read.


As a historian I've faced a lot of skepticism readers have about in the past. Some say we can't trust any of it. Some think nothing happened the way historians have presented it. Some wave their patriotic flags, yet today, and say the USA is never on the wrong side. Not only has the USA been on the wrong side, but political correctness (PC) is designed to right those wrongs, to add understanding to our immigrant culture that's sorely been lacking for too long.


I gave this talk at a historical conference in Virginia a few years back and we had a very spirited conversation. I went with the desire to find out from other history writers what the problem is in using terms like "half-breed" on the cover title of historical fiction. In the discussion came the realization that there was an awful lot of mistaken ideas about the topic that need to be addressed. I knew of a cover of a book called Half-Breed; it was nonfiction. But using it in fiction, it turns out, is a real turn-off.


What does using PC mean? It means we are trying to clean up the patriotic attitude that the USA has never done anything wrong in its past. It is completely PC to show what the image of the "half-breed" really was, to show the native American Indians as they were, not as an enemy we were right to vanquish. It is not PC to erase Jefferson from the books just because he owned slaves – that's going overboard. We can't address white supremacism if we don't understand why it still exists.


PC cannot erase history but teaches us to understand how we got from there to here.


PC means giving due respect to all human beings and understanding what really happened in history. It's called cleaning up the patriotic garble. Many want to believe that the USA government never did anything wrong. That we lost the Vietnam war because of protesters. That the Indians really were bad guys who attacked without warning or reason. We have to understand our real history in order to learn from it.


Oxford Dictionary online defined PC this way: "The avoidance, often considered taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against."


This definition refers to groups. If you're Jewish, you're greedy. If you're black, you're lazy. Stereotypes. Today some whites claim they voted for Trump because they've been marginalized and disadvantaged. They're the new stereotypes – they're all racist. (Hint: they're not.) At the Parkland shooting, the gunman supposedly belonged to a group that wanted to make all of Florida white. Trump claimed that he was going to "Make America Great Again" and his base is filled with racist sentiment. They're today following his lead with armed protests to open the country up to more infection. Are we to assume that "greatness" is tied to "whiteness? And that's tied to "rightness?"  


We have to get rid of the divide in this country, and the main way is to remove all stereotypes. Take Trump's logo: Make America Great Again. What does America stand for? America in geography encompasses all of the North and South American continents. But America in the USA means just us. We don't care about Mexico or Canada because they're not us.


Political correctness means that we treat historical research without stereotypes. While the Indian wars were being fought, the destruction of their culture was rationalized by saying that they must have killed the Mysterious Mound Builders (as at Cahokia). Only after the wars ended were the native American Indians considered to be the descendants of those mound builders. It's the truth, but it's not patriotic to believe it.


I once chatted with a Maryland college class that used one of my novels as required reading in an 1800s Americana class. One question I was asked was "but cowboys and Indians were never friends, right?" This was only a few years ago. Of course they were, I told them. Where do you think "half-breeds" came from?


Maybe this definition will help:  Today we recognize that slavery was wrong, that there is no inferior race; and all religions are created equal. Today we use this understanding to put all humans on an equal basis, and to understand our common core of humanity. PC means giving equality to every race, creed and philosophy, and recognize people as people, not as representing any single group. PC eradicates stereotype.


Religion is another hot topic today. Conservative Christians see PC as trying to erase them. But this country was not founded on Christian values. It was founded as a place where all could freely follow their beliefs. During the Eisenhower term, "In God We Trust" was put on money and in the Pledge of Allegiance because of fears of communism.


Attitude is what we're talking about. Historians today need to relate the attitudes of the times. That's being politically correct. That's showing how we cannot be stereotyped. When I show that Red Cloud stopped fighting whites because he saw how big the whites' cities were, while Spotted Tail came to appreciate whites when he saw them give a touching funeral for his daughter, I recognized how attitude erased stereotype. How do these images fit with those early westerns where Indians were always the bad guys? If I told you that Grant kept trying to find reasons to believe the Sioux broke the Fort Laramie treaty, and couldn't, and then had to force the war at the Little Bighorn, would you still say the Indians were guilty of slaughtering Custer?


Without attitude, we cannot understand proper use of PC. One lady I ran into wondered why dressing up for Halloween in Muslim garb is considered in poor taste. Were those fellows sitting around pretending to be terrorists? Or were they discussing the good things their religion stands for? A negative attitude is what hurts any residing member of any group. I don't want anyone to see that I'm white and immediately assume I'm racist. Don't assume anything by the color of one's skin. That's PC.


Stereotypes need to disappear from our dialog, or we will continue to be a divided nation. "Why are you a Trump voter? Are you a racist?" It's a sure way to stop dialog. So is using the word "libtard." We've become a nation without sensitivity. Hate spirals "us" downward.


"Half-breed" is one of those terms where historical attitude changed over time. The nonfiction history book, "Halfbreed" by David Fridtjof Halaas and Andrew Masich, was published in 2004 with that title in big bold letters. But inside the book, the term is rarely used, opting for "mixed blood" instead. Half-breed is a term exclusively for that 'condition' of being half-white and half-Indian. In "Halfbreed," there are two attitudes; some of them sided with the Indians, while others worked for the whites as interpreters. No stereotypes.


Guess who made half-breeds a bad word? Right, the whites. And use of the word "breed" makes Indians sound like animals. Heck, we all breed, don't we? It wasn't the word, though, that became offensive. It was the attitude that changed toward them. When the whites could no longer use half-breeds after the Little Bighorn, their existence in helping the Indians became offensive.


People complain that today's westerns are too PC. There are no more good guys vs. bad guys. What did one producer do? Cast Kurt Russell in a western where the bad Indians were cannibals (if you haven't seen Bone Tomahawk, don't bother). But does this mean that John Wayne westerns cannot ever be watched again? No, because if we understand PC, we can also understand where those stereotypes came from in the first place. I personally wouldn't watch them because I don't like John Wayne. If we recognize that they are stereotypes, then we're making progress with our attitude.


We can still have villains in movies, but they cannot be stereotypes. Remember Dances with Wolves? There were bad & good Indians; bad soldiers & good soldiers. That's the way it was, and we have to deal with it as real history. Stop teaching patriotism and teach history as it was. If we learn from the beginning that history is filled with attitude, we will lose our divisiveness. I'm sure of it.


Proper use of PC stops us from saying all Indians were savage and all cowboys were John Wayne, trying to save the settlers. Remember that college class I mentioned? Had they never seen "The Lone Ranger?" Or "Bonanza?" Even while John Wayne westerns were being made, there were those who tried to set the historical record straight.

Many think PC attacks Christianity. It doesn't; it attacks racism and stereotype. PC doesn't apply to your Christmas celebration. PC doesn't prevent you from being annoyed. Some Christians get annoyed when they say "Merry Christmas" to you, and you say "Happy Holidays" in return. We hear "Jesus is the reason for the season" as their reproach. As a Pagan, I know that Christmas was placed over the winter solstice celebration, so I get annoyed when I'm told I must believe in Jesus to celebrate the holiday. I once wrote an editorial about the Christian takeover of Pagan holidays and got a phone call from a local politician thanking me. He said I opened his eyes to something he never knew.


Rreedom of religion is in the Constitution. I don't want to believe in Jesus and would reject a law telling me I have to.


Here's a solution. You say Merry Christmas to me, and I won't get offended because that's what you celebrate. I'll say Happy Holidays to you, and if you get offended, or stop talking to me, I won't care.


Religion is filled with attitude. Kick out the Muslims, block immigration from Mexico and build that wall; Trump sounds sincere when he believes these things will make "America" great again.


Is citizenship that hard to get here now? Is a country of immigrants really anti-immigration or just anti-certain-people-immigration? I tried to find out how hard on a Q&A site set up online, and it asked if I was over 18, and live here, and have a green card. Once I got that far, I realized the questions were all in English. I did learn that to apply for citizenship, you need to be a green card holder for at least five years, be physically present here for 30 months out of those 60 months, and be able to write, read and speak English. Here where I live, with its high Hispanic population, many of the signs are in Spanish. Does that mean illegal immigrants live here? And of course you have to be law-abiding, of good character, know the Constitution … then how did someone like Trump get to be president?

How political is PC? From Writing.com:


The phrase "political correctness" has been around a lot longer than most people realize. Today the phrase is applied in everything we do, say, or act upon.  In 1793, the phrase was used in the US Supreme Court "to describe something that was not literally accurate but correct in the political field." 


Correct in the political field. That is a mouthful. They used it to apply fairness, it seems, because that's what the Supreme Court should be all about -- a fair and correct interpretation of the Constitution in all things.


Obama's failures were more related to the growing Tea Party influence (read: racism) on the GOP, who decided they would make him a one-term president by not working with him on anything. Where's fairness? Trump and the GOP reversed nearly all of Obama's accomplishments -- as though it offends them to have black progress in our government. Yet the Supreme Court upheld his health care for the third time.


Conservatives in the GOP were okay with PC if it worked in their favor. But PC attitude is now considered liberal, or leftist. Note this from Conservapedia.com:


The modern politically correct movement began at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is one of the most liberal colleges in the United States. Political correctness is a liberal degrading of the freedom of speech. Words or actions that violate political correctness are called politically incorrect. At American universities, liberals began imposing political correctness to prevent recognition of differences [stereotypes] among gender, religion, belief system, sexual orientation and nationality.


In the 1960s, feminists began to demand that the neutral pronouns he, him and his be replaced with expressions like "he or she", "him or her" … they argued that no one would be able to understand that the masculine gender included the feminine gender in neutral contexts. But this was just part of their campaign to redefine the social roles traditionally associated with masculinity and femininity.


We can't have freedom of speech if we use the word "human" in place of "man?" If we recognize that the male gender term could have been squashing woman's rights in the marketplace?


Yes, it's PC to eliminate some words from our vocabulary. We can be annoyed by political correctness, but my annoyance isn't the same as yours. We're all annoyed by different things. There's no pleasing everyone, as the saying goes.


"Make America Great Again" referred to a time that didn't exist. America -- I mean the USA -- was never great; patriotic attitude packs history with lies. Patriotism once told us that whites were good and Indians were bad, and blacks were only fit to be slaves.


It is "not cool" to say that any group of people is too lazy to get a job, or all blacks are on welfare, all immigrants are abusing the system, or women dress to get raped. It is good PC to recognize where our dialog crosses these lines; hardly a petty annoyance to assert that no one deserves to get raped. Rape is not protected free speech; although with recent abortion laws, it is starting to feel like rape is in vogue. It never was, in case you're wondering. "Baby It's Cold Outside" is not a song about rape.


We're the ones who can make the right changes in the world, by proper application of PC. One way is to understand how to read history books.


The term "half-breed" was used in the 1800s to identify someone who was half American Indian and half white. White settlers first headed west, as trappers or explorers, and they married Indian women. William Bent was one. His son Charly became a Cheyenne dog soldier and died a Cheyenne dog soldier. His son George worked with Indian agents as an interpreter. Half-breeds in the 1800s who were interpreters were considered valuable because they could understand both sides. If they became warriors, however, they would teach other Indians things like how to tear apart railroad tracks and set cars ablaze using coals from the engine.


Eventually even half-breeds like George Bent, featured in the book "Halfbreed," were considered a nuisance when the army no longer had need of them. After the Little Bighorn, they were written out of Indian annuity rights; suddenly they didn't know where they belonged anymore. Indians married whites because they felt their offspring would give them leverage with the white world. But after the Little Bighorn, all that changed.


We need to teach our teachers how to teach things like Mark Twain and Song of the South. That movie has been removed from Disney's play list because it's considered racist to show blacks in the South as being happy. For one thing, the song is set after the Civil War. So yeah, there were happy blacks in the South back then. We can understand that one movie doesn't mean they all were. Show the movie to middle schoolers and start a spirited conversation, one that will live on with them.


They're afraid that, if they let kids read Mark Twain, they'll be reintroducing those "bad" words into today's conversations. They need to teach historical attitude by showing the difference between what people knew then, and what we know now.


I contend that we can still love the USA, even with warts.


Some people believe that writers cannot write about a race to which we do not belong. It's PC to say we can never experience how they feel. That's true for contemporary works; but if a historian is writing about a period that emerges from primary sources that were written at a time when no one alive has lived, that changes the issue. We research a period in history and show what people were like then, so that others can share these experiences. And the historical terms we find in that primary research helps all of us understand the attitude of the time.


Feeling superior to another race is an attitude created by a stereotype. Waving a Nazi flag today is an attitude. Believing all people are equal is more than PC -- it's the truth. What makes each of us different, regardless of skin color, is how we were raised: our experiences.


PC serves us by removing stereotypes and reminding us, as the Constitution tried to inject, that all people are created equal. They didn't believe that back then because slaves were still slaves and women had no place in government. But trying to erase Jefferson from our history because he was a slave holder is overboard PC; did you know he tried to stop slavery in his time? We can admire Robert E. Lee for being a great military leader while wondering why he didn't just quit and free his slaves. But we didn't live back then. All we can do is show what happened, free of stereotypes.


Clint Eastwood made the movie Gran Torino because he "hates the so-called PC thing," according to Edition.CNN.com. The movie was about an old man who's a Korean war vet and an open racist. But he has a change of heart when he sees a neighborhood Korean boy being tormented by other boys and comes to his aid. He learns that they are people, too. Getting to know people is the best way to get over racism. Clint actually made the perfect PC movie.


I still use the term "half-breed" in the dialog of my novel about a half white son in the 1850s because, for teaching our children what the world used to be like, they can see how much better the world can be when we treat each other as equals. This means we don't stop teaching Mark Twain just because we don't know how. Learn how. Use it in historical context. Show students what people were like back then; explain why it isn't considered acceptable now.


We can do this as a people, and we must. It's long past time to acknowledge this country's real history. And that's being politically correct. But it's also the truth.

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