it is always a bad idea, and not infrequently it is downright idiotic." ~ H.L. Mencken
Webster's dictionary defines the word 'precise' as something that is 'exactly or sharply defined or stated.'
One of the challenges a writer faces when trying to convey the essence a topic to their audience is the use of language and style. You want your words to be pithy, without being so contrived as to send the reader to the dictionary or thesaurus every other word. You also want your choices to bring clarity to your subject. The object is to avoid ambiguity, and to communicate as clearly and directly as possible. Unfortunately, in the modern world of politically correct, Newspeak journalism, this no longer appears to be the case.
Entered as exhibit 'A' is the example of the media's treatment of Ms. (Mrs.?) Vonetta Flowers, America's newest Olympic hero (heroine?), and gold medallist in this week's two-man (two-woman?) bobsled event.
It seems that the media, from NBC to the New York Times and everyone in between, insists on referring to Vonetta Flowers as the 'first African-American woman' to win Olympic gold in the Winter Games. As a matter of fact, this happens to be true. However, what does it really tell you about Flowers' accomplishment? Her partner, Jill Bakken, is also the first woman to win a gold medal, or for that matter, any medal in the women's bobsled event. In fact, this is the first time that there has ever been a women's bobsled event in Olympic history. Yet, despite Bakken's undeniably equal accomplishment, her ethnicity isn't a topic of discussion.
However, back to this notion of Flowers being an 'African-American.' What does this description tell us about the athlete in an international event with over two thousand competitors from nations all around the world? She happens to be the first black athlete of any nationality to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympic Games, not just the first American of African descent to win, so if this is going to be an issue, why not just state it in that manner? If she happened to be from Norway, would she be the first 'African-American Norwegian' to win a gold medal?
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, in the February 21, 2002 edition, takes this politically correct lunacy a step further, and states 'Flowers shares gold for the U.S. as she shatters the color barrier.' All right, I'll bite on that one. What color barrier? If a barrier is to be defined in this case as an obstacle that impedes one's success, I would like to have it pointed out for me. Was it the 'Coloreds Only' drinking fountains at the Winter Games training facilities to which they were referring? C'mon, folks, let's get a break here. There are no impediments to black athletes competing in the Winter Games other than the impediment of choice--that being the fact that many black athletes don't choose to excel in Nordic sports, ergo they don't appear in great numbers in the Winter Games. Is this a cultural issue? Certainly, it is, but it is not a forced segregation. Jackie Robinson faced a color barrier. Vonetta Flowers did not.
The sad fact is that we are never going to achieve the goal of a color-blind America, where people are judged on the merits of their accomplishments and character, as long as we continue to make race the first thing we recognize about the individual when they rise to greatness.
Congratulations to all the Olympic athletes for their dedication to excellence, and the sacrifices that they and their families make so that they can achieve their dream of becoming one of the world's best--regardless of race, color or creed.