It used to be common for people to tell ethnic jokes. It isn’t any more. It used to be common to hear ethnic slurs in conversation. That’s gone, too.
It used to be common for Hollywood Westerns to feature Indians saying “How!” and “Ugh!”, for black vaudevillians (or white actors in blackface) to “shuck and jive” on stage and for wartime propaganda to feature wildly caricatured “Japs” and “Huns.”
But that’s changed. And here’s the deal: In the eyes of most Americans, this change has been a very good thing.
On balance, we’re a better society—even a much better society—for our new insistence on treating other ethnic groups with respect. Are there excesses? Yes. Are there hypocrisies—for example, letting certain individuals or groups “get away with” words or conduct that would cause an uproar if offered up by anyone else? Absolutely.
And are there disagreements over what constitutes stereotyping, as the dispute over UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname shows? You bet.
But there’s also a broader point, which is this: On many core issues, there is not much disagreement at all. America has come a long way since the 1950s, as Barack Obama’s candidacy for the presidency shows. And a big part of modern race relations is a broad, societywide disapproval of raw stereotyping.
So, you can’t tell ethnic jokes in the workplace. (Well, you can; but if you do, you’ll be fired.) You can’t use ethnic slurs in conversation. You can’t claim certain ethnicities are inferior to others.
And you can’t dress up like cartoon parodies of American Indians.
Below: A cartoon parody of an American Indian.