SMITH COLUMN: Political correctness

Published 10:30 am Friday, February 4, 2022

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There are critics of political correctness, but also passionate advocates.  Historically, we have been insensitive — even cruel — about certain people in our society, probably dating back to the Garden of Eden.

While we don’t know why Cain, a farmer, killed Abel, a shepherd, it would be safe to guess it might have had something to do with political correctness. Perhaps, Able looked down on this farmer brother. Maybe he called him something akin to being a dumb redneck, which some people consider appropriate when describing people who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, working outdoors in the hot sun.

I’ve heard Lee Trevino tell Mexican jokes. I have Jewish friends who tell Jewish jokes. Although there is no recall of the punch line, I was driving Ron Jaworski, the NFL quarterback and TV analyst to a golf outing, and he sounded fourth with a couple of Polish jokes, where once were front and center across the board. 

Some of those jokes are notoriously clever but were told without rancor, insensitiveness and were not mean spirited.  However, all such jokes could not be told in any public forum, lest you run the risk of getting serious rebuke. Would Don Rickles have a career today?

Self-deprecation, can be delightful and usually takes away any notion that the speaker might be without humility. Anytime there is a put down that cuts off the legs of any narrator, we usually laugh the hardest.

Like a famous football coach who had just won the Rose Bowl years ago; he was driving down the road with his wife and said, “Do you know how many great coaches there are in this wonderful game?”  She replied, “There is one less than you think.” 

I remember Johnny Carson orchestrating a clever skit involving French President Charles De Gaulle. The President, also a General, was taking a tour of an art museum and was evaluating the art on display, offering a rating of what he was observing.  It was a “thumbs up or thumbs down” exercise until he came to the last exhibit on the tour to which he gave his highest rating, gushing with unequaled exuberance and tribute. Carson, as the narrator, in the skit, said, “Excuse me General, you are looking into the mirror.”

John F. Kennedy, as seasoned of a “the joke’s on me” advocate as we have had in the White House, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, used humor to get his point across and would have never been guilty of political incorrectness.  His press conferences offered signature entertainment with the way he parried with the press.

This brings about the invoking of the memory of Erk Russell, the late Georgia defensive coordinator and later head coach of the Georgia Southern Eagles. He is the one person I have known in my life who I believe actually made up or created jokes and punch lines. It was Erk who told me over a beer at the Rockwood Inn on the Lexington Road how cheerleading began.  Erk explained that he had done some research on Lady Godiva’s nude protest ride down the streets of Coventry, England.  Erk said that after considerable research, he came across a reference which confirmed that she rode side saddle.  “The people lined up of the street facing her,” Erk explained, “began yelling, ‘Hooray for our side.’”

Another of Erk’s originations puts into perspective that, while it is never acceptable to sally forth in public with any political incorrectness (although we beat that dead horse with unlimited relentlessness in private), has to do with the history of the Georgia band.

“We were once known as the Dixie Redcoat Band,” Erk said.  “But the word, Dixie, was considered insensitive, so we became the ‘Redcoat Band.’  Then somebody suggested that the term ‘Redcoat,’ smacked of British imperialism, so we became ‘The Band.’

“After that, somebody discovered that on the banks of the Oconee River in the earliest days of Athens, a band of roving hoodlums came upon the settlement, killed all the villagers and pillaged and plundered everything in sight.  Band was then considered an insensitive word, so now they call us, ‘The.’”