I grew up in a lower class mixed race neighborhood. At age twenty-two, with no college training, I went to work in an office, wearing a coat and tie. I was rude and crude. But I have to say that by today’s standards we were all somewhat rude and crude – times change and polite manners, now called political correctness, have changed our behavior. Imagine this, in 1972 there was an overflowing ashtray of smashed cigarette butts on every desk in every office – YUK! we would say in today’s jargon. In this particular case, political correctness has risen to the level of breaking the law. Not so with other issues of propriety.
The push back against political correctness is almost a class struggle. Rednecks across America are fighting back. But even modern Rednecks know there are boundaries that must not be crossed. The mantra of the rebellious redneck is simple, “I will say Merry Christmas if I want to!!!” “Don’t tell me I have to say Happy Holidays”. The rednecks are careful to measure their audience before ripping off a racial witticism. Note here that the reference to rednecks as the only class of crude would be considered politically incorrect – except that rednecks often wear their stereotype as a badge of honor. The famous last words of a redneck: “Hold my beer and watch this”.
When I was a child we stood on the street corner of 22nd and Felix and told all manner of racist, ethnic, social, and economic jokes. Jew jokes. Pollock jokes. N-word jokes (check that). Moron jokes. Irish jokes. Hillbilly jokes. College jokes. There were few boundaries. In my case, the boundary was simple – what ever my mother allowed. Marines told Army jokes. Navy men told Air Force jokes. I suspect today the Navy women tell Navy men jokes. Much of the banter was intended only as humor. But there was a dark side.
Our home was small and there were seven children. Our table manners left much to be desired – getting everyone fed left no energy for discussing the proper fork or whether one con the meat using the left hand or the right. We ate our share of Navy Beans. As I recall, passing gas (farting) was not condoned – or at least was not acknowledged – there was nothing funny about it. That concept did not follow with my elementary school classmates. Fart jokes abounded. Propriety on the playground was not the same as propriety in my mother’s kitchen, or in the classroom. I do not believe there ever was or ever has been a written rule that says “No laughing at fart jokes”. But there is certainly a social regulator to govern such behavior.
The dark side of the humor was in the promotion of false stereotypes. Why are black people not allowed to mate with Mexicans? Their children would be too lazy to steal. The ludicrous absurdity of humor necessitates the defiling of whole classes of people. Told enough times these jokes take on the aura of reality, of truth. A Priest, a Rabbi, and a redneck walk into a bar…. right away we conjure images of stereotypes to fit the scenario. Without the stereotype there would be no joke.
Many of us have become aware of the degradation of certain classes of people with stereotypical humor. The era of political correctness has permeated every level of society. Modern communication, social media, sensitivity to others – all lead to a blending of propriety across class boundaries. But civilization requires some limits, some boundaries.
To the rednecks of America who are offended by people being offended I can only say, “Lighten up”. This sort of social regulation has been happening since the first organized sitting around the evening camp fire. Our means of communications has just allowed the idea of manners to cross class boundaries.