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How Political Correctness Keeps Us Safe

Updated on February 16, 2017

The problem with name calling

At a recent training, the questioned was asked, "What is wrong with schools today?" One teacher replied that everyone was too darn sensitive; kids needed to toughen up; not everyone gets a trophy....

I was bothered by this remark. It seemed to be mirroring the post-election rhetoric I have been hearing from Trump supporters who seemed to have no problem with the racist, xenophobic and mysogynistic comments by Trump.

Since the election, I have heard many negative comments directed at those of us who are scared and concerned by these words. We are told to suck it up and get over all this political correctness.

Well, I am scared by this language, by the underlying feelings. By the bully mentality. When I was in junior high school, it was perfectly acceptable to tease the fat boy or the girl who was a little too butch or the boy who was a little to feminine. I am glad for the political correctness. And I hope that "Making America Great Again" doesn't mean going back to that time.

As I talk to my students about bullying, I remind them that the most important person in the bullying scenario is the bystander. While the victim may feel helpless, the bystander is not. It is the bystander's job to help the victim.

So today, as many of us are scared that groups of our citizens may be harassed and bullied for their religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, let us remember to be that bystander who gets involved. Wear that safety pin or paper clip. Keep the words of Niemöller in mind:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We are our brothers' keepers. We will not let making America great again mean going back to a time before decency and political correctness.

I would like to end with my story about being Jewish. Let it be a glimpse into what it means to be "that" person....

After the Holocaust

It was 20 years after in 1965. She was eight years old. She didn’t know it was 20 years after. All she knew is that she felt really badly when Mrs. B told her son Gregory that he wasn’t allowed to play with those types of people.

It was 22 years after when kids approached her on the path in the woods as she walked home from school. They threw acorns at her. The ones that hit her head ricocheted off in different directions which made it even funnier to her attackers. The words they shouted at her stung as much as the acorns. Their parents said “boys will be boys.”

It was 27 years after when she took a different school bus home one day after school. She had missed her regular bus. But she wasn’t worried; this bus went to a neighborhood close by and she would just walk the extra 20 minutes home. She knew many of the teenagers on the bus by name although she had never spoken to any of them. She didn’t think they knew her. So she was quite surprised when she boarded the bus and someone yelled out at her. It was Tommy, a popular, good-looking boy who played ice hockey. He shouted from the rear of the bus, “f*****g Jew!”

That same year, one of the girls in the group of friends she hung around with said something that was supposed to make her feel better. “We don’t consider you Jewish.” It didn’t make her feel better.

It was 28 years after when she went to see Jethro Tull in concert. As she walked into the Gardens, her girlfriend spotted a dime on the sidewalk. She didn’t think much about it until she heard her friend yell out, “Any Jews around; I just found a dime.” She didn’t say anything. She never did. It was embarrassing to be a Jew.

It was 33 years after. She was home for the summer from college, working for the School Department in her home town. The old building was filled with girls about her age, typing away and doing busy work. They sat in the lounge eating lunch. The building didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows were open, letting in a warm breeze. One of the girls noticed a handful of spare change on the table. It looked to be about 30 cents. She didn’t think much about it when the girl scooped up the change and walked towards the open window. Then the girl hung her head out the window and yelled, “Any Jews out there!” She wanted to say, “There is one in here.” But she couldn’t. She wanted to yell, “Any idiots in here?” But she didn’t. She never did. And she hated herself for that. She hated herself more than she hated the girl.

Many years passed. It was a long time after. But not much changed. She worked in corporate America with professional people. She ignored one of the VPs when he talked about “Jewing down” a vendor to get a better price.

She heard the phrase a lot. Usually in a business setting. So it was surprising to hear it at the dinner table at her in-laws. Didn’t her brother-in-law know?

Many more years passed. She was now a teacher. One year she decided to do a unit on the Holocaust. She spent three months with her students, reading books and discussing this event. She never told them she was Jewish. Maybe they wouldn’t like her if she told them.

It was 77 years after. She was still teaching the Holocaust unit to her fifth graders. She went out on a limb one day, mustered up all her courage, and told the class she was Jewish. She was 54 years old and she still worried they may not like her.

It was 77 years after the Holocaust. She finally had the nerve to admit that “she” was me.

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