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Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 4 comments

When Terms of Endearment Get Politically Incorrect



A recent Facebook discussion sparked curiosity and heightened my awareness about the ways we commonly address each other in public.

My discovery came as a surprise.  The lesson I learned was this:  I’m guilty of making spurious assumptions about what’s acceptable in the ways I address other people.

This self-reflection began yesterday when Terrell Johnson, a Facebook friend, posted the following message:



I thought about this post for a while.  I admit being guilty of the act described by Mr. Johnson as “dumb weird.”  Yes, I’ve called Black males “brother” plenty of times, even when I didn’t know them and I wasn’t entitled to that instant salutation of familiarity.  Of course, I didn’t mean anything harmful by it.  But, the salutation remains indomitably tinged with presumptions based on race.

“Hey, brother — how’s it going?”

Sounds innocent, enough.  But I’d probably never say it to a White guy.  Only a Black man.  That makes it racial — and inappropriate.

“Man” is another common term that’s been around for decades.  “Man” has been spoken across racial lines for as long as I’ve been alive.  Before 1960’s counterculture co-opted “man” as common slang between rockers and hippies, the term was deeply rooted in Black male self-empowerment.  It was even a quiet means of protest.  Indeed, “man” was the typical greeting Black jazz musicians often used to address each other during the Klan-clawed 1920’s when most of America was undergoing an ugly resurgence of bigotry and mass discrimination.  In many places, Black men, including old Black men who deserved respect were instead still called “boy” — often straight to their faces.  Millions of Black men were forced to stand there and swallow the degradation because to do otherwise would have been life-threatening.  And so, “man” became a small yet significant means of defiance against this cultural belittlement.

“Hey, man.”

I still use “man” quite frequently.  It’s just a common figure of speech for those who came of age during a certain era.  You might say it’s part of our linguistic DNA.  I see no reason to stop using “man,” because no one is offended and there are no racial connotations to its usage.

Meanwhile, younger people have created their own expressive lingo, using common salutations like “dude.”  Call it a “get off my lawn” seizure, but I don’t like this one bit.  Hey, man —  I’m not a “dude.”  No one calls me “dude.”  If I offended easily, I’d take issue if someone whom I did not know addressed me in that way, unless, of course, I was somehow cast in the movie remake of “The Big Lebowski.”  Then, calling me “dude” would be okay and besides I’d be collecting a fat paycheck for my willingness to lower myself to the depths of thinking of myself as a “dude.”

Whew.  I feel much better now.

Salutations between the sexes are equally as sensitive these days, and perhaps even more so given the alarming rise in reports of sexual harassment that have been in the news.  Most of these misunderstandings about everyday interaction can be solved by a healthy dose of common sense.  But I must also admit not knowing exactly where to draw some lines.

Though I was born and grew up mostly in the South, I’ve never fallen prone to its regional colloquialisms, particularly when it comes of informality.  For instance, “honey” is a term I’ve never used when addressing females.  I think it’s wrong, or perhaps it just doesn’t fit my manner of speaking.

Nonetheless, “honey” remains a very common expression in many areas of the country to this day.  It’s so common that most people probably don’t even consider it offensive.  Then again, I’ve never seen any actual studies on this — so, who knows?  Perhaps waitresses who get called “honey” all the time by their customers are quietly boiling deep down inside.  I don’t know.  Hence, it’s better not to use it at all is my policy.

About ten years ago, I started using “darling” a lot when addressing females — mostly when around co-workers, waitresses, and so forth.  Many people probably think of it as another way of saying “honey.”  I picked up this cutesy means of expression from the late writer Christopher Hitchens, who used it all the time and sounded downright suave and gentlemanly, which was quite endearing.  Then again, perhaps the English accent combined with his masterful use of prose that made “darling” acceptable within elite circles.  I’m not nearly so talented nor as lucky.  In my circles, “darling” probably raises some eyebrows.  And so, barring the occasional slip up from now on based purely on a bad habit, I won’t be using it any longer.

While I’m perfectly willing to alter (and even cease) my use of language based on changing times and cultural sensibilities, my best guess is that others will not be nearly so flexible.  Most people are deeply rooted in their ways of speaking and behaving and thinking.  They are utterly unaware, and if made aware by chance, they usually don’t care if others take offense to words and phrases they’ve considered “normal” all their lives.

Of course, playing the common sense card — we should probably be willing to forgive and dismiss the typical mutterings of the very aged, to which the rules of political correctness will never apply.  Old people who call someone “honey” might as well be speaking a different language from another time.  Occasionally, I still hear some old people refer to Blacks as “Negroes.”

C’est la vie.  I mean, what can you say?

I think the common bond on what’s truly offensive — be it everyday language or much worse, actions which lead to overt racism and/or sexual harassment — is very much rooted in the subservient role of the victim.  An older woman waiting tables who addresses me as “honey” is entitled to that latitude whereas I should not be able to get away with it.  After all, if I don’t like being called “honey,” I can get up and leave.  If she doesn’t like being called “honey,” well then, tough shit.  She pretty much has to suck it up and take it — because that’s her job.

By the way, it’s okay to call me “honey.”

When it comes to common expressions we use, what’s normal is no excuse.  Tradition is no justification.  At one time in America, the denigration of women and minorities was quite normal, acceptable and even encouraged within power circles.  It was a tradition.  Then, we gradually realized how hurtful the small things were and how those seemingly insignificant details buttressed a faux fever of racial, cultural, and gender superiority.  Changes in the way we address each other are gradual and slow, but they are certain, and that’s a good thing.

In short, just because you’ve been doing something the same way all your life, doesn’t make it right.  Just because it’s an old habit that’s comfortable to you, doesn’t make it right.  Just because you don’t think you’re not offending anybody, doesn’t make it right.

Times change.

We must also change with them.


Note:  Thanks to Terrell Johnson for sparking the idea for this column on Facebook.

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Posted by on Jul 19, 2017 in Blog, Essays | 3 comments

What’s the Greatest Photograph Ever Taken?



This will be an unusual column.

For one thing, it’s interactive.

Second, there are no right or wrong answers.

Finally, your opinion matters.  Well, maybe.  Your opinion matters if you give this topic some serious thought and you craft your explanation wisely.  Here it goes….

I have no actual data on this, but it’s probably accurate to guess at least a hundred billion, perhaps even a trillion photographs have been taken since the first camera was invented about 170 years ago.  That’s a lot of photographs.

So, given the broad history of modern civilization, so widely documented with the camera by some truly remarkable people who have put themselves in danger in order to capture an image, my question is this:  What is the single greatest photograph ever taken?  More to the point — why?

For me, this is an easy answer.  I came to this realization earlier tonight while accidentally stumbling upon the well-known image, and really for the first time, recognizing its awesomeness.  Later on, I’ll share this revelation with you.  But for now, I won’t spoil the fun of speculation for those who want to engage in the discussion and perhaps even debate with others.  In fact, if someone posts a compelling enough image and argument, then (perhaps) I could be persuaded to change my mind.  I think we all want to enter this exercise with an open mind.  So, please try and draft your reasoning wisely.

The task is simple, should you chose to accept this challenge.  Google search the one photo you believe to be the greatest ever in history and then post it.  “Greatest” could also mean most shocking, most meaningful, the bravest, or perhaps even the most beautiful.  That’s entirely up to you.  The photo you chose can be of any subject.

Please visit Facebook [EASY TO DO — CLICK HERE] and post your selection.  So that others might also enjoy the discussion, your photo must also be accompanied by a paragraph or two, explaining your reasoning.

In a follow-up article sometime in the near future, I’ll cut and paste the TEN best photos and write ups.  I’ll get the final say, but also might call upon some professional photographers to offer their assessment.  Some friends I am considering calling upon would include — Neil Stoddart, Joe Giron, Jayne Furman, Erick Harkins, and David Plastik.  Let’s see how this goes.  I might even add a prize if this topic gains some steam.

And so now, let the debate begin about the greatest photograph of all time.


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Posted by on Jun 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy



My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy:

(1) If you fear the occasional provocation, then don’t watch the show.

(2) If you don’t want to risk being offended, then don’t watch the show.

(3) If you are bothered by salty language or objectionable words, then don’t watch the show.

(4) If you demand politically correct content at all times, then don’t watch the show.

(5) If you demand that writers-comedians-performers adhere to a strict safe zone of family-friendly content, then don’t watch the show. In fact, don’t go *any* adult comedy show, because many stand-up acts are far *more* “racially insensitive.”

(6) If you accept the premise that Bill Maher has always been a risque comic who sometimes says and does inappropriate things, but are STILL offended, then don’t watch the show.

(7) If you don’t see a far bigger picture that Maher is an experienced comic who has built a successful career while offending people indiscriminately, then don’t watch the show.

(8) If you called for Maher to be fired but haven’t done jack shit to object to far more incendiary material put out and sold by Sony Records and other major record labels, then don’t watch the show.

(9) If you fail to weigh Maher’s lifetime of countless words and actions, which reveal an *indiscriminate* attack-dog persona without regard to race, then don’t watch the show.

(10) If you can’t tell the difference between the abject cruelty of a “nigger joke” which was/is a deplorable example of rampant racism versus Maher’s self-deprecating attempt at humor, told off-the-cuff in an unrehearsed setting, then don’t watch the fucking show!


There are thousands of television channels available to you for alternative mainstream entertainment which won’t ever risk offending you. For every Bill Maher, there are 100 preachers trying to pluck you wallet. For every Bill Maher, there are thousands of scripted shit shows which never take a risk, nor will ever make you think.  Go there. Make that choice on your own.

One not need be a fan of Bill Maher or agree with his politics to see that this is a very troubling episode. In fact, he should be supported by everyone who values free expression, and is a fan of uncanned humor.

My Conclusion: Maher should NOT have apologized. His apology was especially troubling, given Maher’s long advocacy of free expression and self-professed championing of anti-political correctness. It’s also a severe setback for ALL comedians and artists everywhere which will inhibit future exploration of touchy subjects.



Note:  To follow the Facebook discussion on this topic, please click HERE.

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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, Politics | 2 comments

When Is It “Too Soon” to Joke?



On November 22, 1963 at a nightclub in New York City, stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce decided to go on with the show.  Just hours after President John F. Kennedy was declared dead, Bruce walked onstage in front of a uneasy audience.  No one in the crowd knew what to expect.

According to witnesses, Bruce wallowed around the stage for several moments, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, perplexed about how to proceed.  He didn’t know quite what to say.  Finally, after this awkward silence, Bruce stepped up to the microphone and blurted out, “Boy, is Vaughn Meader fucked.”

Not everyone will get that reference, so here’s the cliffs:  Vaughn Meader was a fellow comedian, a one-trick-pony who specialized in doing Kennedy impressions.  The previous year, Meader had even released a Grammy-award winning album which sold millions.  The Kennedy assassination also meant the death of Meader’s comedy career.  As things turned out, Bruce was right.  By 1965, Meader was broke.  He was fucked.

While the boundaries of good taste have since been blurred to the point of obscurity, society back in Bruce’s time was much more rigid.  Among the many idiosyncrasies which established Bruce as an insurgent of comedy was his willingness to take enormous risks during his act and directly challenge authority.  He ventured into once-sacred territory no other comedian during his day would dare touch.  For this, we was arrested several times and charged with crimes.

Although Bruce was unfazed by obscenity laws and other legal restrictions on free speech, he still had to be particularly nervous about cracking a joke like that on the day Kennedy died.  His joke might have bombed.  His audience could have stormed out in anger and disgust.  No one really ever knows how comedy will play out until, when invisible boundaries of expectation are crossed, and it’s too late.

A generation later, things for comedian Gilbert Gottfried didn’t go so well.  Shortly after 9/11, Gottfried attempted a polemical stand up sketch during which he made several references to the terrorist attacks.  The act wasn’t received well at all by the audience.  Someone in the crowd yelled out, “too soon!” — presumably speaking for a majority which viewed making light of the deaths of thousands of people as highly inappropriate and insensitive.

Over the years, comedians have been confronted with mixed reactions to cutting edge material alluding to tragedy.  When is it “too soon?”  That’s hard to say.  Indeed, the passage of time seems to be the only salve which gradually eases the sting of shock and pique of pain.  A more cynical explanation could be that time allows us a mourning period to anesthetize ourselves.  Whether we care to admit it or not, we begin to forget.  Time becomes an unwritten statute of limitations for alleviating the guilt of believing human tragedy can be funny.  Nervous muted giggles can and does eventually become bellowing laughter.

Today, we’re free to laugh about many of history’s worst tragedies.  Take Lincoln’s assassination, for instance.  There’s a popular witticism many of us have used on occasion, which goes:  “But other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”  That quip is intended to downplay misfortune in comparison to something that’s far more consequential, and it’s widely understood.  No one today would dare consider this remark insensitive, perhaps because everyone connected to the tragedy died a very long time ago.  But that sure as hell would have bombed had any comedian of the day used that line at Ford’s Theater in late 1865.

Yesterday, there was another terrible tragedy, this time in Manchester, England.  Many people died when a terrorist planted a bomb which exploded at a pop music concert.  Within hours, some people had taken to social media where they attempted to crack jokes which many viewed as “tasteless.”  The most noteworthy of controversial comments came from David Leavitt, a writer.  He posted to Twitter:  “The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too.”

In defense of Leavitt, I think the selected means of communication is very important here.  Social media is understood to be an unfiltered forum of expression. That’s what makes it a useful tool, sometimes.  Using an extreme example, no one (least of all Leavitt) would make insensitive remarks at a hospital where the victims’ families are gathered.  However, social media is widely understood to be a continuous lightning blast of free expression.  It’s the world’s biggest bar during happy hour.  Anything goes.

Let’s acknowledge as fact that Twitter is a younger, edgier, often sardonic forum of expression.  It’s not like your grandmother’s kitchen table, or the bus stop, or a Kiwanis Club.  Many people sign onto Twitter precisely for the entertainment value of quips and barbs — especially from the famous.  Isn’t that kinda’ the point (for a lot of readers?).  Hence, suddenly professing some moral objection to insensitivity while also perpetually blood-thirsty for scandal does an absurd contradiction.

Predictably, the public backlash to Leavitt’s Twitter post was swift and resounding.  With hours, Leavitt had to issue a public apology.  But the damage had already been done.  The dregs of the junk press pounded on the Leavitt wisecrack like a pack of wolves.  The very worst of the media mucus, TMZ — which has created a cottage industry empire out of outtakes with salacious shock value — had a field day.  What a disgraceful double standard.

I wonder — might we all be inflicted by these same double standards?  Are we hypocrites?  How can a joke be unfunny one day, and then funny the next?  Do we grant greater latitude to some people when they tell an off-color joke, while judging others far more harshly for an identical act?  Why do some among us receive a free pass on certain critical remarks about human tragedy, the ills of society, or race — while others who say identical things get vilified?

Here’s one possible explanation.  I think there’s an inherent desensitization to victims who are different from us.  The more alien they seem, the easier they become targets.  In the Manchester bombing incident, it’s easy to make fun of the torturesome music that’s popular with teenage girls.  Just as I remember years ago when the Union Carbide toxic gas leak tragedy in Bhopal, India killed hundreds of people, jokes were circulating in the streets within hours.  Presumably, those jokes would not have been told (not so fast, anyway) if the victims were our neighbors or our fellow countrymen.  It’s far easier to laugh at something the further we’re removed from the horrors.

For another reaction, I’ll borrow a (slightly edited) Facebook post from my friend, stand-up comedian Roger Rodd:

If you call yourself a comedian, and you have any rule book whatsoever for any premise, or you’re any part of the “too soon” police, you aren’t a comic.  You’re just another speech fascist.  That does not mean I feel sorry for, nor do I defend those who do insanely offensive premises, poorly timed material, or make asinine statements on a stage.  I simply defend their right to say it — and pay the price when it isn’t funny, well received, or costs them work or the respect of others….As a comedian, you’re either with free speech or you’re just another sanctimonious asshole of a SJW.  Judgement of material is the right of the audience — PERIOD.  That is not the right of anybody posing as a comedian.  Free speech BEGINS when somebody says something you DON’T like.

Comedy = Tragedy + Time.  Such a ridiculous equation.

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