The Lost Art of the Racial Slur

Yep, We’re Gonna Go There

We live in the weirdest world these days. According to the curious moral calculus of the Information Age, it is okay to blow somebody to bits with a Hellfire missile fired from a remotely-piloted drone so long as you don’t call them a nasty name at some point along the way. We are supposed to respect an enemy’s personhood while ripping the very lives from their bodies. Killing people doesn’t seem to precipitate nearly the moral outrage as might making character judgments based upon skin color, accent, sexual proclivities or country of origin. It is honestly kind of surreal if you think about it.

We Americans were not always this fragile. In fact, previous generations were quite robust and thick-skinned. It remains to be seen how long we can sustain our newfound sensitivities when the rest of the planet seems disinclined to play along with our stupid little games.

During WW2 all involved raised anthropomorphic racial profiling to an art form.

The Care and Feeding of Racial Slurs

It’s an unfortunate but timeless part of the human condition. To paraphrase the Terminator, it is in our nature to destroy ourselves. We are lamentably born to scrap.

Part of that innately self-destructive bent is the storied art of dehumanizing the enemy. It’s tough to shoot somebody if you see them as dads, sons, brothers or uncles. It’s way easier if you transform them into some kind of stylized bloodthirsty monsters first.

During World War II, we raised racial profiling to an institutional art form. The enemy’s leaders were depicted as cartoonish caricatures wherein negative physical features were accentuated and perceived character weaknesses exploited. This institutionalized morphological bigotry pervaded the media. No less a family-friendly luminary than Walt Disney was a prolific purveyor. Such stuff perfused its way into American culture from top to bottom.

apanese soldiers looked different from most Americans. Propagandists capitalized on this fact.

Racial Slurs in Action

Both of my grandfathers fortuitously came of age between the world wars. Given that one in every 32 Americans who served during World War II was killed in combat or in training, there is a decent possibility that this is the only reason I am alive today.

My mom’s dad was postmaster at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, during World War II and befriended countless soldiers passing through for military training. One was a delightful young man from Hawaii of Asian descent. As this was the Deep South, my grandfather naturally invited him over for dinner.

My grandmother was a legendary cook. In retrospect, it is amazing we didn’t all end up weighing at least 300 hundred pounds. My uncle was five years old at the time and rambunctious as are all young men of his stature. There came a knock upon the door, and the little man-child scampered to answer it. Seeing an unfamiliar person of military age and Asian descent on his front stoop in uniform, he shrieked, “Momma, get the gun! There’s a Jap at the door!” This exchange ultimately became part of humorous family lore.

My well-intentioned but ill-informed uncle was simply a product of his environment. With the crystalline clarity of hindsight, we have come to appreciate that it really was impractical for Hitler or Tojo to have harbored any serious designs on occupying the American heartland. At the time, however, things were not nearly so clear-cut.

Wartime America, particularly the Deep South,
was littered with POW camps like this one.


The American Deep South was liberally sprinkled with POW camps filled with captured members of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. However, we didn’t take a whole lot of Japanese prisoners. They typically chose death over captivity.

My grandfather was issued a handful of German POWs as they were needed for construction projects around the post office there at Camp Shelby. He described them as uniformly courteous, friendly and hard-working. He actually said they were, in general, amazing craftsmen.

I’ve read the U.S. Constitution from cover to cover more than once. I lost friends defending that document, so I felt that was the least I could do. I don’t recall anything in there guaranteeing our right not to be offended. The reality is that everybody’s tribe has been put upon and disrespected at some point in history. My people were English and have been mightily abused at the hands of the French in ages past. However, the sight of the fleur-de-lis adorning New Orleans Saints football players doesn’t cause me a great deal of angst. I suppose there is the issue of distance. That was admittedly a long time ago.

I honestly think we should all make a conscious effort not to be quite so sensitive all the time. If this was Willsworld, and it most definitely is not, it really wouldn’t matter what color you were, where you were from, or who you slept with. Personally, I couldn’t care less about that stuff. You be you.

People in my world would be judged based upon how hard they worked and how much they contributed to society. We just wouldn’t waste so much time jabbering on about how put upon we are all the time. I think Willsworld would be a pretty nice place to live myself.

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