Shuck and Jive for Modern Times

Political correctness, for its champions and detractors, is here to stay. The threat of saying/doing the wrong thing has policed a great many people from engaging in racist/sexist/generally ignorant behavior. Which makes incidents that leak out — from celebrities, politicians, reality-show dredges — all the more noticeable.

But sometimes racist/sexist/generally ignorant things do find a voice. And that voice is broadcast to millions — perhaps in the form of a television commercial. Here’s a recent commercial from AFC Chiropractic, a Phoenix-based chiropractor:

Notice something? It’s hard not to. The main character, Grandma Pain, is a shucking-and-jiving black stereotype that wouldn’t be out of place in a ’50s TV show — minus the farts and hitting, of course, as those were grounds for having the hose turned on you.

Having lived in Arizona for 6 years now, I shouldn’t be surprised that commercials here feature such broad, crude and antiquated stereotypes. And yet here we are, just days after “Obama’s Hip-Hop BBQ.”

Here’s a longer look at that same commercial, in case you missed it:

Here’s the troubling thing, even beyond such a horrid caricature: this will blow over without much notice, not because people won’t see it or ponder on it, but because the majority of Phoenix citizens, who are not African-American, will not think much of it. And that bothers me.

We, as Americans, are too uncomfortable and scared to talk about racial relations in person on a scale larger than cries of playing the race card and/or shouting reverse racism. People cannot and will not hold a racial dialogue that goes deeper than on-the-surface representations such as these. The fear of exposing long-perceived prejudices and preconceived notions is such that people are more apt to stick their heads in the sand than experience discomfort in learning something new — something scary or different.

Grandma Pain is how racists see black people, like Flavor Flav.

Which makes internet dialogue on race that much more baffling and frustrating, because the cover of anonymity allows for people to vent their views — enlightened or otherwise, mostly otherwise. Those people that shy away from in-person frankness voice their beliefs to those that share their morals and values, ostracize outsiders and wage arguments that antagonize strangers. These fruitless exchanges cement the beliefs of the misguided and the minority, again making it a challenge to organize a “real” (in quotes because some people don’t think internet conversations should be taken seriously) conversation about racial relations in the 21st century.

Characters like Grandma Pain should not exist in this day and age. And AFC Chiropractic should be taken to task for their racist depiction of African-Americans. But as long as the majority let such incidents blow over like Phoenix dust storms, I should expect to be surprised that I’m still surprised by Arizona’s backward view of minorities.

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