I recently heard a radio interview with a man who supposedly “represents” a certain segment of the population. I’m not going to name the group because I don’t want this to be about them specifically. Let’s just call them cob-snop-naggle-woosters. The group is characterized by a certain physicality (not race). And now – at least according to this specific individual – they are no longer happy with the name or label this group has carried since T-Rex had his last take-out brontosaurus burger. Apparently, the name is now offensive.
The interview went something like this:
“So, Mr. Can’t-give-it-a-rest, I understand you’re not happy with the term cob-snop-naggle-wooster.”
“Please don’t say cob-snop-naggle-wooster in my presence. It’s very offensive.”
“But, isn’t it true that cob-snop-naggle-woosters have been called cob-snop-naggle-woosters for nearly as long as there have been cob-snop-naggle-woosters, and that until recently, most cob-snop-naggle-woosters had no problem with the term?”
“Yes, but now we don’t like that anymore. It seems vulgar and I wish you’d stop saying it. We much prefer the term, wigg-wannie-poogie-pooper.”
“Yes. That’s now the acceptable term.”
“Ah, look, we have a caller on the line. Hello caller, what do you have to add to this stimulating conversation?”
“I’m a cob-snop-naggle-wooster and always have been a cob-snop-naggle-wooster.”
“Well, surely you’re mistaken, ma’am. The acceptable term is now, wigg-wannie-poogie-pooper. You obviously can’t be a real wigg-wannie-poogie-pooper or you never would have used the recently-offensive term cob-snop-naggle-wooster. You’re a traitor to our cause!”
And so it continued. An entire hour-long segment dedicated to the cob-snop-naggle-wooster/ wigg-wannie-poogie-pooper debate. Some of the group agreed with the “spokesperson,” others did not.
No label accurately reflects each individual within a group, and worse, their use tends to over-simplify complex issues and further segment our already diverse national community. Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that there are no natural divisions within our population or to think that there are no legitimate grievances by said groups. But aren’t we at a point where we should be looking at ways to grow beyond these outdated mindsets rather than to further cement the factions? Shouldn’t we at least attempt to toss aside the clichés and prejudices of the past, and look at each person more as an individual and less as part of a specific group or minority?
If there must be a label, I think the labeled group should be the ones to choose what they are to be called, not the general populace and certainly not – when dealing with political or social divisions – a rival group. If one wants to be called a wigg-wannie-poogie-pooper, fine, but please, don’t be offended if someone unwittingly blunders by – horrible of horrible – uttering an outdated term.
“You called me a pickle loaf,” cries one.
“Um, yes. Was this somehow inappropriate?” asks the other.
“You hate me!” insists the first.
“No, not at all. Though you do seem a bit high strung. Perhaps some exercise and a few less lattes are in order. Now, what is it I should be calling you if not a pickle loaf?”
“Pickle loaf lite, you moron! I’m going to my congressperson.”
To me, it comes down to intent. If no insult was intended, none should be taken. Suck it up, accept it as an honest mistake, gently inform the misguided soul of his or her horrific blunder, and certainly don’t go whining about mistreatment or prejudice. There are far too many legitimate instances of inequality for us to be worried about every tear-faced whiner looking for a reason to feel put-upon. (In fact, maybe we could come up with a label for these rabble-rousers. Perhaps, pot-stirrers, hate-mongers, or, best yet – ex-citizens!)
Labels, by nature, are inherently inaccurate. One could look at me and throw out a few labels: white, male, middle-class. Now, from that, what do you know about me? Essentially nothing. Not my beliefs, not my political leanings, not that I’m a father of three who loves his family so much that it hurts. Not that I’m prone to silliness or that I’ve had a life-long love affair with pizza. (Chicago-style deep-dish – yum!) All one can deduce from these labels is the approximate color of my skin and which restrooms I can enter without causing much of a ruckus. Even middle-class could describe virtually anyone other than the very rich or very poor.
Now, you might say we’ve made great strides in breaking down social barriers. We now have an African-American (label alert!) president. And I’d say yes, I’m glad the country as a whole is now open-minded enough to elect a person of color. But I don’t think we will have arrived until we can elect a man or a woman of any race without ever once mentioning the fact that so-and-so is a… (insert label here). If we can elect a female Asian president and not announce, “This is our first female Asian president.” When we can have an African American president and not announce this is our second, third, forth, African American president, then, we’ll be getting somewhere. If we can elect a wigg-wannie-poogie-pooper and not have every citizen in the country strain to suppress a giggle, then we will have arrived.
Thom Reese is a Las Vegas based writer whose weekly radio show, 21st Century Audio Theatre, previously aired on the 50,000 watt KDWN. Fourteen of Thom’s audio dramas will be released by Speaking Volumes Quality Audio Books throughout 2010. Thom studied comedy writing at The Second City and works in market research for CBS Broadcasting.
Copyright 2010 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.
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