Published July 1973 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd The Ethnic Slur Hurts Us All One of the degrading things which needs to be rooted from our contemporary life is the ethnic slur. One still sees and hears many such affronts, despite the enormous progress that America has made in offering equal opportunity and equal dignity to all. The unfortunate popularity among some unthinking persons of the derogatory so-called Polish "joke'' is a case in point. The only possible thing which can be said in mitigation of the damage such demeaning stories cause to the sensibilities of Polish-American citizens is that many of those who repeat the slurs may do so without actual malicious intent. The Mafia stigma, which all too many Americans of Italian extraction unjustly have to bear, is another case in point. Godfathers and gangsters there may be, but it does a great disservice to millions of Italian-Americans to think of organized crime in terms of any one nationality. The stereotype of the lazy, shiftless Mexican or Mexican-American is still another ethnic canard which should have had its day. Typecasting of that sort has about as much validity as the caricature of West Virginians as ignorant, barefoot hillbillies a characterization which citizens of our state rightfully resent. The point is that harm, whether intentional or not, is done to people and to the places from which they come by the thoughtless repetition of unfunny untruths. This is especially true for Americans of any recent foreign background. It has often been said that America is a nation of immigrants, and it is. The antecedents of virtually all Americans lie elsewhere than on these shores. The great strength of America is that in our broad land the diverse heritages of many cultures have met, intertwined, and merged. The contribution to American society made by peoples from all over the globe is incalculable. Ethnic characteristics and individualities may remain-and perhaps they should. But the once widely used melting pot metaphor remains accurate to the degree to which our national life is today a fusion and a blend of many peoples and many customs, drawn from many climes. That being so, the derisive ethnic joke, the ridiculing or degrading of others should have no place in our society. The ethnic slur reflects upon us all. Self-deprecation, the ability to recognize and laugh at one's own native peculiarities and frailties is a habit that we could far more profitably cultivate.