Ridicule hurts

In the years that I have been on the faculty at NIU, the major social theme articulated by the university community has been the concept of “unity in diversity.” One would expect that publications which represent this university would take the forefront in condemning the demeaning of any cultural heritage through the perpetuation of negative ethnic stereotypes and the pointless use of ridicule.

Thus I was greatly disappointed and somewhat angered by Andy Plonka’s “Mr. Clinton Goes to Wa(r)shington” in the Northern Star’s edition of Jan. 20th. Plonka ridicules Mr. Clinton’s accent and dialect, making use of the very offensive stereotype that anyone who speaks this way is poorly educated and basically stupid. Perhaps, I thought, Mr. Plonka simply did not realize how offensive and painful this stereotype can be. I decided to contact Mr. Plonka and discuss the matter with him. I could not talk to Mr. Plonka because that was against (editorial editor) Mr. Kirk’s policy.

Mr. Kirk’s insensitivity to my concerns, as well as his “policies” were surprising to me. But the coup-de-gras came with Mr. Plonka’s offering of Jan. 22. In this “column”, Mr. Plonka chose to present a rather indignant defense of his right to use “humor” and in so doing reveals his own insensitivity and lack of concern about the effects of writing pointlessly offensive things. He laments that he cannot have an opinion anymore and that people no longer disagree with his opinion, they are offended by them (thus precluding the need for logical argument about his opinions). But the Jan. 20 column contained no substantive opinions to logically argue about. Disagreement occurs when opinions are presented. Offense occurs with the use of pointless, demanding ridicule. There is a difference, even if it escapes Mr. Plonka.

I do not deny that Mr. Plonka has the right to hold any opinion he wishes, but with that right also comes responsibility. This is particularly true for journalists and teachers because of the potentially wide influence they have. If Mr. Plonka cannot show some professional restraint in the expression of his non-factually based “opinions,” I hope he chooses another line of work.

Finally, the particular rendition of Professor Hoke E. Poki in Plonka’s Jan. 22 “column” was a personal shot at me. In trying to make my point about the unfairness of Plonka’s southern stereotype, I used the fact that I have a Ph.D. and speak four languages as an example. I suppose Mr. Plonka’s attribution of two Ph.D.s and six languages to Professor Poki is another try at ridicule. I can accept Mr. Plonka’s embattled plea to be the butt of his “humor”, but I challenge his judgment regarding his promotion of the negative and inaccurate stereotype of my cultural heritage.


Professor and Chair