Jan. 23rd, 2007

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One of the stories I loved as a child was The Emperor and the Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen. The story takes place in China, centuries ago. An Emperor, seeking beauty, is introduced to the song of the nightingale and is enchanted. He is then presented with a mechanical nightingale who sang a different type of song, the same song over and over. The mechanical bird was encrusted with precious gems, and the music master declared that it was far superior to the real nightingale. The real bird was soon forgotten, and flew away. The Emperor banished her from his lands.

After a few years, the clockwork bird began to malfunction. The Emperor grew ill. He lay dying, deserted by his courtiers, with no one to wind his musical friend. He cried out in his loneliness for music.

He heard a sweet song from his window. The real nightingale sat in the sill, singing once again. Her song revived him. Instead of singing the same song, she sang of real life, good and bad, rich and poor. In exchange for her song, she bade him promise she would always have this freedom.

Growing up, I was taught that calling people names made them feel bad. Later, I grew to understand that it was far more complicated than that. I learned that it is possible to approach other people in ways that do not invite conflict, but empower both myself ant other people. Coming from the heart and treating every person with dignity and respect is the objective I strive for. I am imperfect, but I genuinely try.

In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, it became quite popular to be racially tolerant. People who previously would never have shaken hands with an African American were suddenly Rev. Jackson's best buddy. They made a great show, and it was very clear that the whole thing was quite disingenuous. These were the people who began to be parodied in comedy routines. These were the people condemned for being "Politically Correct".

It is quite disheartening to note now that racial epithets such as "Beaner" are returning to accepted use. People who are otherwise liberal make blatantly racist statements condemning Hispanics without regard for the fact that not all Hispanics are illegal aliens, nor are they from Mexico, nor are they dirty, poor, uneducated or even non-white. Yes, Hispanics are considered White, for all that it means. It is as sickening to hear people talk about "ragheads" without knowing that not all people who wear turbans are Arab (in all likelihood, here in my neighborhood, the person is a White American Sikh from the Sikh temple in a neighboring city), not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Arabs are at war with Americans, and not all Middle Eastern People are Arabs.

If I object to these false characterizations, however, I am likely to be accused of being "Politically Correct". People have fallen prey to the song of the mechanical bird and have confused it with the real nightingale. We have forgotten that "Political Correctness" is a label slapped on people using racial tolerance for political gain. We have forgotten that we must continually and vigilantly police ourselves in order to remain a society that welcomes all people regardless of race, creed, color or gender orientation.

At the end of the story the nightingale makes this promise to the Emperor: "I will sing to you of those who are happy, and those who suffer; of the good and the evil, who are hidden around you. The little singing bird flies far from you and your court to the home of the fisherman and the peasant’s cot." Let us listen to the nightingale as she reminds us of our fellow human beings.


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