Chacos: How to incarcerate the politically incorrect
The words came out of his mouth before I could stop him.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
The question was directed at two young women (brown), and I was the older bystander (white). As silence parked between the four of us, the confrontational part of my personality shifted into gear because in my spare time I’m also a member of the Politically Correct (PC) police.
In parts of America, political incorrectness is considered an especially heinous crime. The PC police are dedicated detectives who hide in plain sight, disrupting jokes right before the stereotypical punchline.
We halt conversations filled with derogatory slang. We bring light to microaggressions, those out-of-context offenses that come from generally well-intentioned individuals who may be unaware they have engaged in demeaning ways.
More elite members of our squad go on to expose blatant bigotry and racism.
The goal of the PC police is to show how words and actions can be destructive, even ones used unknowingly. We know silence often means complicity, especially if we’re in a position to speak up.
I have been a PC police officer now for almost 30 years, and my first raid was during my freshman year in college. I returned to my childhood home, irritating family and friends with my righteous behavior. Still a rookie, I was prone to long lectures, speaking in shameful, often hurtful, ways.
I wouldn’t let my dad’s friend in our house until he agreed to stop telling jokes that started with, “A Jew, a black man, and an Arab walked into a bar … .” One night I even got into a feud with a Klansman who was in town for a white supremacist super rally.
My ways of combating microaggressions have come a long way since my early days as a hot-headed PC officer on the beat. Now, I disarm the perpetrator with humor, more mature comebacks, and with the facts. If I’m feeling classy, I try to maintain their dignity.
When the comment “Where are you from?” came out innocently enough, I interrupted the conversation, so the women didn’t have to immediately answer.
The PC police understand that silence, at times, is safer for those who experience systemic racism — the subtle systems and structures rooted in racism, operating unconsciously or unintentionally, but nevertheless effectively, to produce and sustain racial discrimination. Sometimes speaking out leads to increased discrimination and acts of retribution.
Unless you are seated in anthropology class or someone says, “I’m headed out of town to visit family,” don’t ask where someone is from. This is an offensive question to someone who speaks with an accent, has different skin color than you, wears a hijab, wears a turban, wears a yarmulke, or wears anything that doesn’t resemble something worn by a Gap clothing model.
Think about what you’re really asking, and then don’t, because depending on their mood, a nearby PC police officer will have a field day with your question.
People who speak without taking the advice in Tip 1 above will often get defensive and say, “That’s not what I meant,” and follow up with, “Stop being so sensitive.” Both statements are designed to place blame on the recipient, not the speaker.
Start by acknowledging that someone’s “intent” isn’t the point, and then don’t let them steer the argument elsewhere.
Words and actions have meaning to the one receiving them, a point my therapist missed when she defended the household appliance I received … for my birthday. I know my husband had well-meaning intentions, and, as my therapist asserts, firmly held systemic beliefs set in place long before he showed up with my new vacuum. Blah. Blah. Blah.
I no longer use that therapist because there is no excuse for a gift that continues to make me feel like I belong in a Sears & Roebuck catalog.
Another infraction often cited by the PC police is, “I’m not racist. I have a black friend.” No one’s allegiance to a group gives them a hall pass to tell institutionalized jokes or capitalize on stereotypical clichés, not even George Santos, who is still, somehow a U.S. representative and one-time almost Jew in his embellished claims to pretty much everyone.
Most of us have a black friend, a gay friend, or a Jewish friend. If luck has anything to do with it, you may have all three in one individual. To be painstakingly clear, that’s still not permission to use him or her for what my dad’s friend would consider a terrific setup for a joke, even if you claim them to be your best friend.
For the more egregious offenses, like outright bigotry and racism, PC officers often use their voice in more covert ways. Small actions in the right direction aren’t as immediately satisfying as emotionally-charged arguments with a Klansman, but now I understand my argument was lost long before tears and rabid spittle covered my face.
Perpetrators of hate generally don’t reason with words, so experienced members of the squad let their actions do the talking.
I’m learning to stay away from the hobby store, the one closed on Sundays, even though I’m especially drawn to lawn décor.
Locally, I no longer support a business after discovering the owner’s hostility toward a vulnerable population I ardently defend. I want to boycott her local establishments with a smear campaign, but senior PC officers remind me to stay classy. Maturity often comes to me in fits.
If you think you have what it takes to shine a light on stereotypes and discrimination, apply to become a PC officer today. We’re always looking for new recruits. The pay is paltry, the work environment often stressful, but the benefit package and camaraderie are worth it.
For the politically-(in)correct record, the two young women originate from Colorado.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor, and some flair. She currently has monthly columns in the Vail Daily, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, and The Aspen Times. Guest pieces have been published in The Week online magazine, Scary Mommy, and The Colorado Sun. She can be reached at: http://www.andreachacos.com.