In light of Paula Dean's most recent screw-up, I feel compelled to add my two cents. I'm sure there will be several think pieces highlighting the issue of White privilege and the ongoing challenges of marginalized populations.
I'll leave that to those well versed in history, psychology and politics. I can add nothing to the plethora of eloquent articles that are sure to emerge.
All I want to share is a simple formula for how not to offend people. That's it.
No groundbreaking study. No grand introspection required. Just a basic rule I learned a long time ago most likely on a playground. This is something my elementary mind was able to grasp with little effort.
I didn't have the language for it then, but apparently the degree of emotional intelligence was enough for me to understand how to be nice.
Of course, no one's perfect. We've all inadvertently offended someone at some point in our lives. Plus, there are individuals who are overly sensitive. This is a given. However, when a large segment of a population is telling you something is offensive, listen!
Ready to stop being a chronic offender?
Here's the groundbreaking rule:
If you aren't that, don't make fun of that.
More formally, if you are about to poke fun at any marginalized group and you are not part of said group, you are risking being offensive. Of course, this is based on the presumption that you actually give a damn and aren't just an entitled asshole.
Assuming you are not an asshole but clueless with the emotional intelligence of an hubcap, then read on for further clarification.
Example #1: If you are not Black but insist on making references to stereotypes of "Black culture" chances are you are going to offend. Just to be clear, this includes blackface which appears to cause some confusion amongst chronic offenders. (Please note that brownface and redface are equally offensive for respective populations.)
Example #2: If you are not gay, then you'll probably want to refrain from making references to stereotypes of gay people.
Example #3: If you are not overweight, then you should probably steer clear of obnoxious comments about those who are.
Can you recognize the pattern? Good, because it works for any group.
And save the "C'mon, I'm just joking." Unless you are on "equal" footing, the receiving party can never be sure of your intent. And your friendly pat on the back and accompanying chuckle will never erase the suspicion.
This isn't about being PC, because anyone can say whatever the hell it is that they want to say. However, don't be surprised when someone states they took offense to what was said. You can't possibly be that dense.
And while I'm on it, stop telling offended people that they shouldn't be offended. You're only displaying your sense of superiority by attempting to assign them a response more to your liking.
However, if it was your intent to offend, I have nothing for you. Willful ignorance has never been my forte.
All I'm saying is that it doesn't take a whole lot to be decent. The overwhelming majority of us were originally equipped with basic tools for humanity. Using those tools is simply a choice.
In the end, decency requires nothing more than your willingness.