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Too PC or Not Too PC

On a lovely weekday afternoon, I (an American who is Chinese) was talking with a friend (white male) and I made the following statement to describe a newly found eatery I really enjoyed:

“It’s my new favorite BBQ joint, the brothers there know how to throw down some mean BBQ!”

My friend stared at me in disbelief, and then reprimanded me for my use of the word “brother” stating that it was not PC to reference African-American males as “brothers.” I was surprised that he thought “brother” was considered offensive in this context. Thus a debate has begun.

Why should I use “African-American,” a term that was probably created & defined by a group of “let’s-make-up-some-play-it safe-race-words” a-holes. To be honest, the hyphenated American descriptive is quite annoying. I was born and raised in the States….so that makes me an American vs. Asian-American. Are white people called Anglo- or European-American? No, they are “White.” Besides that, I prefer to use the word “Brother” because it has two syllables and “African American” has seven….and I am all about brevity.

And come on, lets say I was PC, my original statement would have been:

“It’s my new favorite BBQ joint, the African-Americans there know how to throw down some mean BBQ!”

It’s just not organic and obstructs the flow.

I asked two black comedians if the word “brother” was offensive to them, and neither one said it was. I do realize two people out of 40+ million is not an accurate sample size. On top of that, comedians have been called a lot worse, so “brother” is probably a compliment in their eyes.

Are Canadians offended by “Canuck?” Do Russians get upset when they hear “Russkie,” do hillbillies load their shotguns when they are called a “redneck” Do the Vietnamese get angry when they are called Zipperheads….oops, bad example with this last one, they would get mad if an Occidental called them that, but I can get away with it…why you may ask?….. Because the Vietnamese are my “brothers.”

Does my friend have a bad case of “white guilt” or am I just a politically incorrect bastard? Has my Midwest upbringing jaded my racial slur-dar,? Is the use of “brother” as a reference to black males really considered racist? Do tell.


Comment from Emily
Time: July 16, 2008, 4:13 pm

I don’t think his point was that you should alternatively refer to the cooks in question as “African-American,” but rather just refrain from referring to them as “brothers,” or perhaps refrain from referring to their race at all. Why is it important? Just because African-American is an unwieldy and problematic term doesn’t mean you HAVE to use “brother.”

I’m curious, when you asked the black comedians whether the term offended them, how did you contextualize the use of the term? Did you say it was you using it, in reference to people in the food service industry that you don’t know personally?

I’m guessing the reason your friend took offense is because “brother” is a term of kinship/commonality, and seeing as you neither know the people you were referring to nor are black yourself… it’s not exactly given that it would be an appropriate term for you to use, and I’m not surprised he was uncomfortable with it.

Comment from dylan
Time: July 16, 2008, 8:21 pm

i think emily makes a good point above. the existence of the term “african-american” doesn’t mean you have to use it; race, to her, shouldn’t have come in to play during your conversation with your white friend.

but here’s where i disagree with emily. if the way you remembered your experience was that black dudes made killer bbq, there is nothing wrong with you saying it like that. as george carlin said, there are no bad words; there’s bad intentions; there are bad contexts. who is emily — or anyone else, for that matter — to judge whether you used “brother” in the correct context? any normal, well-adjusted person would’ve realized you weren’t being racist.

i’m tired of people being worried about being politically correct. we come in all different colors. if you want to describe someone based on their color, go ahead. if someone asks me where Todd is, and we’re sitting in a room filled with white and asian people and Todd’s the only black person in the room can’t i please say… “Oh, Todd? he’s the black dude over there by the window.” is that disrespectful? was my intention impure? sure, i guess i could say, he’s the dude with the white shirt… or the blue shirt, but then i have to scan for a few seconds everyone else in the room and make sure there’s no one else that fits that description. do i really need to exert that much energy to make sure no one thinks i’m a racist? can’t i have faith in the person i’m talking to that they’ll know i’m trying to do my best to describe someone in as short as time as possible? isn’t it more racist to be THAT conscious of it, that you have to do back flips to avoid sounding racist?

when i call my barber (he’s black; i’m the only white guy i’ve ever seen in my barbershop) to see if he could cut my hair… i tell him, “hey, it’s dylan, i’m the white guy… do you have time to cut my hair today?” i don’t really know if he remembers my name so i just ID myself as the white guy…. because i know he’ll immediately know who he’s talking to. do you think when i walk into the barber shop i’m not always aware that i’m the only white dude that ever gets his hair cut there? i don’t care. white people can’t cut my hair the way i want it. i have kinky hair- much like a lot of black dudes. the guy that cuts my hair cuts kinky hair all day. why wouldn’t i go to him? and why wouldn’t i, if asked about where i get my hair cut, NOT mention that everyone there is black? that’s one of the main things that makes that place what it is….it’s a tight-knit, very spiritual, loud, friendly place, with constant chattering across the shop and people off the street stopping in to say Hi or to shoot the shit or just bust balls er whatever. are you telling me that’s not a cultural thing?

i’m sick of people who say “i don’t see color.” i love that Stephen Colbert has taken away that silly phrase by using it satirically and constantly on his show. if anyone says they don’t see color, they’re liars. there’s nothing wrong with seeing colors. there is, however, something very wrong with being a hateful piece of shit who can’t tolerate people *because* of the color of their skin.

to think white people can undo what our relatives did to black people hundreds of years ago by being a bit more politically correct with their words, is mind-bogglingly silly. you want to help? be honest with yourself.

ps: why does no one ever refer to Barack Obama as white? he’s just as white as he is black. he’s half Kansas-ite; half Kenyan and was born in Hawaii for chrissakes. he was raised by his white mother along with his Indonesian step father (for a time in Jakarta) and his white grandparents (back in Hawaii). how is it that with all of that history, no one ever calls Barack Obama white? why is it even an issue that he’s black? if there’s a great example of racism right now, that’s it right there. He’s a person with parents from different countries. That’s most of America isn’t it? does it really matter that one of his parents come from an African nation? why is it even an issue?

Comment from Briana
Time: July 16, 2008, 10:52 pm

I’m cool with references to race when describing people, provided you’d do it for your own race and/or for white people as well. I’m sick of white people being weirded out when I ask them to describe someone and, after they’ve neglected to talk about skin color, I ask if it’s a white dude. I don’t know if you’re not saying “he’s asian and dresses really posh” because you don’t want to sound like a racist or if you’re not saying “he’s white and dresses really posh” because you assume that white is “normal” and therefore not worth mentioning versus any other ethnicity being “other” and therefore a good descriptive trait.

White, Black, Asian, “brother”, whatever. Get your point across and if you’re really not racist you’ll be able to explain yourself without sounding like a retard. We focus too much on being PC. I’m all for efficient communication.

PS – I don’t agree with referring to Obama as white. I get that he’s American and has grown up around a lot of white folk. So have a lot of black or mixed people. Doesn’t mean that they don’t identify with a part of their lineage. I’m a mix of Irish, Scottish, French Canadian and American Indian. I don’t say, oh just call me Irish because I love to drink whiskey and my family comes from Boston. I like that I’ve got many parts that make me who I am. I’m pretty sure most people are the same, regardless of color. I get your point, but what I really think what you should argue for is that we describe each other as “American” instead of identifying with one of the multiple races that make us our particular skin color. (With me it’s pretty pasty white with red spots when I get exposed to sunlight)

Comment from dylan
Time: July 17, 2008, 4:23 am

briana: i agree with your “PS”; i guess my point was there’s no reason to keep referring to Obama as black (or any race) since he’s just as white. in other words, why don’t people make an issue out of him being white? really what we’re talking about is an American with skin tone that’s darker than the average white dude. he’s an American, you’re right.

Comment from Janet
Time: July 17, 2008, 5:48 am

Just to clarify: were the guys running the BBQ place siblings?

Comment from John
Time: July 17, 2008, 9:25 am

In response to Emily:

I know the point my friend was making was that “brothers” is not PC, and in his defense, he did NOT say “African-American is the proper way..blah..blah..blah..” And I did not use “brothers” just to spite Political correctness.

I speak with a little more color in my sentences, no big deal, I chose to mention race because that was the situation, but my friend was offended by my use of “brother” and that is the question at hand: Was my use of this word inappropriate? I agree with Dylan and George: it’s all about the context and that is what makes certain words good ones or bad ones.

I used the word “brothers” to describe the black males (not related) who were throwing down some mean BBQ. If we analyze the word brother, one would really have to dig deep to reveal any type of negative association with it. So were you implying that since our skin doesn’t match, I can’t call a black person “brother” but I can refer to another Asian as “brother?” Wouldn’t this rule of yours be considered a derivative of segregation?

Let’s also talk about the picture I choose, from the movie called “The Brothers.” It is a story about four black friends. If you have ever dealt with the entertainment industry, more specifically, major studios, you will know that they are the most uptight, politically correct pandering, non-risk taking, decision makers. This was one of the reasons why we saw the demise of Chappelle’s Show. Well, if these uptight studio execs gave clearance on the title “The Brothers” then that pretty much says it all.

I do not feel I used the word inappropriately. If anything, I find the word to be endearing instead of being racist.

Comment from Mix
Time: July 29, 2008, 9:14 pm

That was a rovely story.

Comment from Dave R.
Time: September 1, 2009, 12:22 am

I don’t really care what word is used to describe other peoples race or color.

What I do care about is the goody two shoed, bleeding heart, liberals who take it on themselves to “protect” the poor black, red, yellow, etc. people who can’t protect themselves so they have to have a superior, bleeding hearts, white liberal pussy take care of them.

That’s really insulting.