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October 22nd, 2017

Insight

Stereotypes

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published May 19, 2015

   Stereotypes

It was just a small item in a round-up of the day's news, but like so many such nuggets, it set off a whole train of thoughts:

"Mindy McCarty-Stewart, the principal of Mason High School in Ohio, canceled a student-led event that invited girls to spend a day wearing a Muslim headscarf and issued an apology, adding that the school received numerous messages that forced her to reconsider the event's ability to meet its goal of combating stereotypes."

In that one sentence, Gentle Reader is offered a panoramic view of the trouble with American education, society and politics. What's wrong with letting girls wear a Muslim headscarf to class? What next -- will boys be told not to wear yarmulkes (those skullcaps Jewish males wear) lest they risk looking like a stereotype?

What is a stereotype, anyway, but a generalization -- and how think without generalizing? And what's a high-school principal doing responding to "messages" telling her to cancel a school event lest she commit, horrors, a stereotype? Behind such messages there is always a threat: Violate the canons of political correctness by admitting that some of us have different customs, even come from different ethnic groups or practice different religions, and you'll be accused of the gravest offense against current socio-political fashion: stereotyping.

You have to wonder: Why trust teachers, sponsors of school clubs, all those we put in charge of our children's extracurricular activities, to make their own decisions if some bureaucrat in the principal's office is going to overrule them at the first hint of political pressure? Aren't we supposed to celebrate and honor our diversity in this country? Isn't that supposed to be one of our strengths? Then why squash any outward sign of it, like a headscarf?

Do little kids still get to dress up and play make-believe in school plays? Or are certain costumes verboten? Santa and his elves? Generals Lee and Grant meeting at Appomattox? Are we allowed to sing Negro spirituals any more, or must we disguise any reference to slavery in our history, and ignore its economic, political and moral influence on our society? Do we censor the words of Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln lest we, yes, risk committing a stereotype?

How ridiculous can we get -- always, of course, in the most enlightened, culturally liberated, politically advanced, straight-faced way?

If there is anything more impressive about political correctness than its ideological rigidity, then it has to be its absolute humorlessness. Want to see a whole parade of stereotypes, and enjoy a touch of humor, that most saving and human of emotions? Then seek out the next citizenship ceremony at your local courthouse. It's a combination of joyous celebration and solemn devotion. We may be a serious people, but we're not stuffy. Which is one reason the always-sober types preaching political correctness seem so ... un-American.

The last citizenship ceremony I attended at the Pulaski County, Ark., courthouse featured new citizens of every origin. Some dressed up, others down. Listen and you could hear accents from all over the world, from Down Under to Piccadilly Circus, Lagos to Singapore ... stereotypes galore. And if you're as lucky as I was, you'll get to laugh along with a sweet little lady from Thailand when the clerk tried to pronounce her unpronounceable -- for a Westerner -- name.

As you listen to the roll call of nations from which the new citizens came, you could almost hear that American melting pot, or stew, or slumgullion, or bouillabaisse, or whatever it is, bubbling again, and America being formed anew. It was as if every immigrant generation had lined up to say: "We're still coming! And others are waiting to follow us!"

What grand entertainment, and it's available at regularly scheduled intervals at a federal courthouse near you. Immediate seating. No waiting. It's a grand show, and a meaningful one. It's called: America!

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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