Sunday, April 29, 2007
The Evolution of Political Correctness - Part I
REV AMOS COMES TO TOWN
He arrived in our small town in a long, low-slung, blue Caddy convertible with chrome hubs and white-walled tires. He was dark-skinned, straight, tall, and slender. As dashing as a Rhett Butler. He walked with such rugged grace in his slender narrow-toed shoes that flashed like footwear decked with chrome, and his fine tailored three-piece suit. His hair was black and wavy – his smile infectious.
His three-day crusade was booked in the town theater. For the disenchanted people of our small town this was a free night of entertainment at its best. The flyers promised that at his crusade, the lame would walk, the deaf would hear, and the blind would see.
The first night we filed into the theater with excited anticipation. A large crowd of poor and hardworking people from the surrounding district. We came, dressed in the formal wear of hard times. Men dressed in overalls patched with strong string and squares of integrity, women dressed in thin hand-sewn lightly starched dresses, children with scrubbed faces in shrunken sweaters and hand-me-down skirts or pants that hung limply and irregularly with hidden mechanisms of string and safety-pins to hold them up. We shuffled to our seats in ill-fitting shoes with distressed soles, broken buckles, and knotted laces.
The Evangelist flashed pearly white teeth as he was introduced and strode purposely to the pulpit. His face radiated a special glow. A glow of countenance and physique too remarkable to be a simple reflection of stage-lighting. I could only think as I stared at this tall dark man that his special radiance could only be the consequence of a spiritual presence that hovers near and encompasses only the irreproachable. And then I heard a strumming-sound like a double-bass viol and realized it was his voice. So like a melody. So like a song.
He began purring verses from the Bible. We were immediately entranced. As if hypnotized. Shuffling feet were hushed. A silent reverie settled on the crowd, even babes and children listened intently as if to a soft lullaby, while the purring voice soothed us. And when Rev Amos had finished the reading, he clicked on a tape machine and music played as ushers passed collection plates. Flat wallets were pulled out of pockets void of anything except outstanding bills for cattle, seed, and groceries. These were shifted to one hand while individuals sought with their other hand to find loose coins. Paper shuffling? Not so much. Only the sound of coins jingling.
The ushers walked the collection plates to the front and placed them on the pulpit. Rev Amos picked them up and while still in the motion of moving them to a shelf lower in the pulpit, he stopped in mid-air. Suddenly changed his mind. He handed them back to the ushers who still stood adjacent to the pulpit. And that’s when the melody of his voice got a bit pitchy.
“Come on, Folks,” he said, “You can do better than that. Pass those plates again!”
Jaws dropped and feet shuffled. The ushers turned to retrace their steps.
But that aura of righteousness that had shone on Rev. Amos now shone on all of us and the refraction didn’t glow on our faces, it glowed in our minds. Suddenly we were all thinking and envisioning the pale blue Caddy with the shiny chrome hubs parked amidst the dull peeling paint and rusting bodies of ancient coupe-cars and old pick-ups in front of the theater. And with that mental reflection three quarters of the audience stood up and promptly left the theater.
It was a disappointment to many of us that we didn’t see miracles of lame people walking, blind people regaining sight. But I remember the day well because what I did see was the miracle of the weak finding strength. In that trusting, willing, and accepting crowd, I knew then, as I surely know even today, that the first time the plate went round, all gave willingly with the utmost generosity and goodwill.
The intent of the Reverend was to bring a message of comfort to the comfortless but in the end he was unwilling to share that message without bartering over the selling price. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that even then, within the profusion of moral obligations of the simplest of men and women, there was a microbe of jelly completely evolved, (later named ‘Political Correctness’ ), that demanded respect and dignity despite impoverishment, illiteracy, or geographic location for all people.
This microbe has for centuries been the keystone of small town thinking. Uniting communities politically in their demand for respect. And so, within the hour, word spread to the far reaches of the community leaving little hope for Rev. Amos. The rest of his crusade was canceled and that same afternoon we saw the interplay of sunlight and chrome as the long, low-slung Caddy pulled out of town.
In truth, this was a time when we had no context for Political Correctness. It defied explanation at that time even more than it does now. But maybe instruction does not always come from understanding. We certainly gave Rev Amos good solid instruction in that discipline through nothing more than an instinctive, somewhat primitive, common understanding of the morality of right and wrong.