I’m a Mick. Or a potato eater, if you prefer. Those are the most commonly used derogatory terms to describe an Irishman.
Every ethnic group has one. It’s part of your heritage.The rules of social justice prohibit making fun of any ethnic group except your own. Jeff Foxworthy has made a career out of “Redneck” jokes. (“You know you’re a redneck if your pumpkin has more teeth than your spouse.”) That is funny, and I can laugh at it because it was told by someone from the South who is therefore immune from criticism. You have to know the rules. “How do you break a Mick’s finger? Hit him in the nose.” Can’t touch me.
Social groups have mildly derogatory names as well; environmentalists are tree huggers, for example. Physical traits inspire other names. I wore glasses in grade school and therefore I was “Four Eyes.” And a Mick. Going through a growth spurt as a pre-teen found me somewhat overweight Therefore, I joined the “Fatty” cluster group as well. I was also an only child so I was “spoiled.” Once in fourth grade I brought a present for my teacher and so I was “teacher’s pet” At various times I was also a “Mama’s Boy” and “egghead” a “jock” and a variety of other classifications, according to what was going on in my life at the time.
Like everyone else, I survived these withering assaults, and in a perverse way, enduring them at that age made me less likely to be offended by trivial insults later on. Nietzsche said something like “That which does not kill you will make you stronger.”
These little harmless _ albeit unkind _ comments are attempts to define us by some minor physical or ethnic trait. But no one can steal your dignity or self-esteem without your permission. Knowing that and accepting that life is full of boorish behavior and unkind people is apparently not sufficient anymore. It has risen to a criminal offense in some cases, the first law that seeks to punish you for what you think rather than what you do.
We have created a society that believes it should be immune from any affront, real or perceived, from anyone at any time. An unkind comment rises to social injustice, a demand for resignation and contrition.
There is a difference between intentional, malicious, systematic cruelty, or deliberate, calculated racism and the simple, normal tribulations of everyday life. At least there should be. Not every slur or offhand remark rises to the level that requires judicial intervention. Not every insensitive or thoughtless remark requires sensitivity training and civil rights enforcement. Sometimes people are just insensitive clods, but that doesn’t make them criminals. And sometimes we revert to the most base aspect of our character in a moment of weakness, but that does not make us racists. Never ascribe to duplicity or arrogance what can otherwise be explained as simple stupidity.
We have become a nation of fragile flowers, so insecure in our own self-worth that the slightest perceived insult brings howls of persecution. The rest of the world views us as a vacuous nation of half-wits, self-absorbed and believing that everyone has the same stupid notion of what is offensive and what is not. And more importantly, that if we decide to be offended, we are owed an apology.
Why are we so concerned about what someone else says? Because we have no sense of selfworth. Because we believe that this is a perfect world and in this Eden we have a mandated right to be free from even the slightest teasing, criticism or insult; or perhaps because whoever is insulting us might be right and we shouldn’t have to face that.
It is as though we want to be offended. Being a victim is perversely energizing and bestows righteousness. Being a “victim” empowers one beyond what wealth and status can do. It is the ultimate bullet-proof vest; after I am offended, I am entitled to something, perhaps money, but certainly compassion.
If I am fortunate enough to be in a class of people who are aggrieved, I have great opportunity. If I am in the majority, I am a target. (Comedian David Spade was quoted as saying, “If gays and lesbians hold a gay pride parade, it doesn’t mean they hate straight people. But if white people were to celebrate the white race, it would mean they are all bigots and racists.”)
Instead of a unified nation, we are a random collection of self-interests. Well, you know what? Go ahead and offend me. I can take it because I have been forged in the crucible of real life. I was tormented on the playgrounds and humiliated in athletic events where sometimes my best wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t anyone else’s fault. I managed to construct my own self-esteem without protection in federal courts.
Words in and of themselves are not offensive. What is in the heart of the person who is saying them determines that. Not allowing people to reveal the way they really feel does not cure racism or insensitivity; it perpetuates them as a chilling suppression that makes life a featureless plain of disingenuous feelings and false harmony.