Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Colorful Language

When my sister was in her mid-twenties, she moved to Bellingham, Washington. We were speaking on the telephone one day, and she related to me the fact that people there referred to her (apparently when she was within earshot) as: “That colored girl.”

“Where,” I wanted to know, “Did you move to? 1950?”

We had a good laugh about it, and life went on. Eventually, my sister moved closer to Seattle, and I moved out as well, and now we’re both comfortably ensconced in patches of suburbia and working well-paying jobs. So I hadn’t thought much about that conversation until the other day, when I learned that a teapot tempest was brewing over the words of one Jim Honeyford, a Republican state Senator from Sunnyside, which is in the south-central part of the state. He’s been being raked over the coals for about the last week for having said:

I said the poor are more likely to commit crimes, and colored [people are] most likely to be poor. I didn’t say anything else other than that.

Later, he followed up with:
As long as you have the poor more likely to commit crimes, and the coloreds who are more likely to be poor, you have to reform society to help alleviate some of those things. I’m just stating a fact.

His use of the termed “colored” has made him a target for social justice activists and political opportunists alike - an e-mail landed in my inbox today, requesting that I join them “in demanding Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler and State Senate leadership ask Senator Jim Honeyford to step down.”

In his defense, Senator Honeyford describes himself as a septuagenarian who “doesn’t always use language that is appropriate in 2015.” I’d add to that a moderate talent for understatement, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of doubt in this. People tend to hang on to the rules that they grew up with long after the rest of the world has moved on, and it’s not like calling someone colored makes them burst into flame or anything. I think that the focus on him using that one word, despite the hullabaloo that it has received, is actually somewhat off target.

Senator Honeyford says that he wasn’t attempting to say that poor and minority people were more likely to be criminals because they were poor and/or minority, instead:
I assume that it’s because of the lack of education, lack of parental training and responsibility. You can go to all kinds of reasons for it.
I have to admit that I’m somewhat impressed that a man who openly stereotypes poor people and minorities as uneducated, poor parents and/or irresponsible finds that his main troubles are centered around his choice of words. But maybe someone figured that a focus on outdated language would garner more petition signatures.

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