Thursday, October 23, 2014

IS IT POLITICAL CORRECTNESS --- OR ACCURACY?

Political correctness just does the boogey-woogey on my last nerve. I abhor it. It's usually condescending, and often just plain silly. But, sometimes the commonly-used labels or definitions aren't just politically incorrect, they're also inaccurate.

For example: Here in Los Angeles, an announcement is made at the Civic Center station of the MetroRail (the light-rail system, which is a subway at that point), that one of the venues near that station is "The Los Angeles Cathedral." Of course, I am very aware that what is being referred to is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, but to refer to that as "The Cathedral of Los Angeles" is not only inaccurate, but it is profoundly disrespectful to two other very legitimate cathedrals which are located next to MetroRail stops, and which aren't even mentioned at all as trains reach those stops. I'm sure that whoever decided that the announcement of "The Los Angeles Cathedral" at the Civic Center station was fit and proper shared the widespread idea that a "cathedral" is simply a "large church," and that isn't true; the word "cathedral" comes from the Latin, cathedra, or the Greek, kathedra (καθέδρα), meaning "bench" or "throne," thus referring to the main or central church of an area or district or diocese, the headquarters church where the bishop's throne or seat of authority is located. While Our Lady of the Angels is, indeed, the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it is not the only cathedral in the city, nor even the only one located adjacent to a MetroRail station; and, from what I've been told, the people who staff or volunteer at Our Lady Cathedral dislike hearing their church referred to as "The Los Angeles Cathedral," which it isn't. What about my church, St. John's Cathedral, the Pro-Cathedral of the Episcopal (not Roman Catholic) Diocese of Los Angeles? It's located near the 23rd Street Station of the Expo Line, and isn't even mentioned. Or, worse, what about West Angeles Cathedral, the church pastored by the Presiding (Head) Bishop of an entire denomination, the Pentecostal, predominantly-black Church of God in Christ? It is located directly across the street from the Crenshaw Station of the Expo Line, but --- like St. John's --- isn't even mentioned. So, insisting that Our Lady of the Angels be referred to as "the Roman Catholic cathedral of Los Angeles" would be not just a matter of political correctness; such insistence would also be done in the name of accuracy and respect for other cathedrals in the city (by the way, the various Orthodox denominations also have their cathedrals here, and back when St. Vibiana's was the Roman Catholic cathedral, it was far from being even the largest Roman Catholic church in the area).


Which brings me to the point of this post, which actually has absolutely nothing to do with cathedrals, or with religion at all. It deals with ethnicity or ethnic identity. No, not my identity; I mean, I'm old enough to remember when we were "colored," or "Negroes" (of course, the Southern whites back then had their own name for us, but we won't get into that); then we became Afro-Americans, then African-Americans (with a hyphen), and finally, African Americans (without  a hyphen). Somewhere along the way we were also "black," because black was, suddenly, beautiful. Frankly, I had no problem with "black," and I have absolutely no problem with it now, and I usually use that term. But I have to admit that I flinch at "colored" or "Afro-American" or "Negro," and I often use the more cumbersome "African American."

But the group whose appellation I'm dealing with in this post is not my group; it's the group which is usually referred to as "Indian" or "Native American." Although most of my acquaintances and friends from that background have no problem with either of those labels, I do --- and I rarely use them.

First of all, I dislike "Indian" for a very obvious reason: This is not India, and the explorer who thought it was, and who called the inhabitants he encountered "Indians" was mistaken. I don't like "Native American," because those people were here long before there was an "America" for them to have been "native" to.

There's the Canadian term, "First Nations." While "Aboriginal peoples" is certainly more accurate than "Indians" or "Native Americans" for the reasons given above, I'm happy to leave that label to the people of Australia and New Zealand.

I prefer "Indigenous Peoples" or "IPs." Yes, either of those may sound strange, but I think they're both more accurate. The ancestors of the people from that group were here long before Europeans came, so I think of them as "indigenous" --- even though their forebears did come from elsewhere, probably from Asia by way of a land-bridge from Siberia across to what is now Alaska. And, using the plural acknowledges the fact that there were many different cultures, many different "nations" (just as there are many different nations and cultures in Europe and Africa). By the way, when I was growing up in Oklahoma, during Oklahoma History classes it used to bug the crap out of me to read about, and have to report on, the "Five Civilized Tribes." I always wondered, "weren't those people 'civilized' for generations before the Europeans came and imposed their civilization on them"? Of course, back then, in the 1950s, you certainly didn't ask such an impertinent question of your teachers!

As I said before, most of my friends and acquaintances who are from one of those groups simply use "Indian" or "Native American" when self-identifying, and I use whatever term I know the person prefers; but, in most other instances, I prefer "IPs" or "Indigenous Peoples," for the decidedly not politically-correct reasons I hope I've laid out rationally.