Pete Hamill Proposes Banned Words of 1969
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. January 9, 1969, Vol. XIV, No. 13
Let's Get Up Off the Floor by Pete Hamill
The pox that was 1968 is behind us, the bodies have finally gone cold, and the New year looms, virginal and gray. If 1969 is anything like its predecessor, we might as well just cut our throats right now. But even with Nixon and Lodge and Hickel and the other members of the Lawrence Welk audience who shall govern us, there still remains some hope of survival. The big problems might be out of our hands for four years, but it does seem to me that on smaller matters we might have some chance of straightening ourselves out. The following are some suggested beginnings.
1. An absolute cleaning up of the language. I mean that all of us should try to use the American language with greater accuracy and precision. For example, in the way we talk about race. A black racist should be called a black racist. If George Wallace is a white racist, then Rap Brown is a black racist. Personally, I would like to see that blurry noun "militant" eliminated from the language. But if rewrite men continue to use it, then it should be used across the board. If a black yahoo like Sonny Carson can be described as a militant, then we should also use the word to describe white yahoos like Rosemary Gunning, Vito Battista, and Albert Shanker.
It would also help if we reduced or eliminated those phrases which no longer have even general meaning: "groovy," "imperialists," "up tight," "white power structure," "piece of the action," "pig" (as applied to all enemies, especially cops), "participatory democracy," "Uncle Tom," "guerrilla" (followed by words like theatre, politics, journalism, painting, etc.), "soul" (followed by food, music, brother, etc., or used alone to connote some exalted sense of self missing in others), "honky," "community control" (as a slab of letters on a page, without elaboration). I realize that this would make it almost impossible for some citizens to talk, but perhaps we would then be forced to talk with some precision about what is happening to us. If the years of Johnson, Rostow, and Rusk have taught us anything, it is the viciousness of the sloppy use of language.
2. Liberals in general, and intellectuals in particular, should cease functioning as excuse-makers for people who hate them. If Rap Brown calls me a honky or a racist bastard, I have no obligation to make excuses for him; my only obligation is to laugh at him, or to belt him. I certainly have no obligation to say: yeah, Rap, oh you're beautiful, Rap, oh please lash me again, Rap, baby, give it to me some more while I make out the check. The liberals who put up with this sort of racist crap are masochist jellyfish. I realize that Rap Brown is somewhat passe, but I use him as a symbol because I've seen him work: making brave speeches about burning everything down, then disappearing behind his bodyguards while other people are beaten, kicked, arrested, or shot. The Rap Browns hate liberals because they see the liberals they bleat to (for a fee) collapse before Afros and shades faster than a French army collapses before the sight of guns...
3. As a footnote to the above, it should be made clear that criticism of blacks is not automatically racist. Criticism equals racism is a beautiful piece of propaganda put forth by people who deserve to be criticized, and has paralyzed us for years. I can understand to some extent why blacks won't criticize other blacks, at least before whites (although there is no white equivalent of "uncle tom," and no whites have spoken as much filth about people like Bayard Rustin as blacks have)...
4. Stop the hypocrisy on inter-racial sex. One of the great mysteries is why black women don't blow the whistle on some of their black brothers. Everyone in the Village knows this scene: the black cat sitting in the Village bar, a copy of Liberation in his pocket, wearing Afro and shades, practicing his best surly look, nursing a warm beer, and waiting for the first guilt-ridden white chick to tumble in the door. It doesn't matter that the girl is the ugliest white broad since Ilse Koch, or that she is sodden with whiskey, or has a bad case of crabs. That particular black stud doesn't care. What matters is that she's white.
So, after seven or eight minutes of love talk ("white bitch" etc.), he takes her off and balls her badly on a 6th Street rooftop, and then comes back, muttering about the revolution, and has the nerve to threaten the lives of any black chicks he sees with white men. His manhood reinforced, he goes home, sleeps the sleep of the just, and spends the following morning writing an essay about black pride. Jesus. If blacks of whites have to take guys like this seriously, then we had better start erecting statues to Vincent Impelliterri, Richard Speck, and Simon Legree. They've all had an equally elevating effect on America.
5. We should finally admit that no serious change in this country will ever be effected through Assholism. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and the Yippie kids who hang around them can be funny at times, and brave. But basically they are assholes. I cherish them for walking into HUAC meetings in costumes out of "Drums Along the Mohawk." But HUAC is an easy enemy; confronting the late Joe Pool is just not the same as taking over General Motors or Litton Industries, or destroying the welfare system. The Yippies are tap-dancers and Assholism is therapy, not politics. You don't become a revolutionary by saying you are a revolutionary, and you don't storm the Moncada Barracks with your brains blown apart on drugs.
6. We should make some small start toward relieving the paranoia of the cops. God knows, I have plenty of reason to believe that a lot of cops are slightly bughouse, and addled by racism and petty bigotry. But someone has to prove to me that you change them by calling them "pig" or by shooting random members of the force in the back from an ambush. Cops, after all, are working class people; they want to be respectable and their ideas about respectability are about 40 years out of date. But if you despise a cop because his hair is short, you cannot expect him to love you when yours is long...
7. We should immediately do everything possible to pass a new Lyons law. Under the old Lyons law, which was repealed some years back, city employees had to live within the city limits. Then the law was repealed, the city employees fled to the suburbs, and the result has been near-disaster. If a cop wants to be a cop and live in Oyster Bay, that's perfectly all right; just let him join the Oyster Bay P.D. But if he wants to be a cop in New York City, then, by God he had better live in New York City...
8. We should stop cheering the Romantic Revolutionaries every time they call for blood. At Columbia, and in a few other places, SDS did a good job of exposing the smugness and hypocrisy (not to mention the corruption) of the people who run our institutions. But we part company on the issue of spilled blood. Talk of heading for the Adirondacks with machine guns is romantic nonsense at best, and Minuteman lunacy at worst; this is just not Cuba, or Bolivia, or Vietnam.
I remember one brave revolutionary in Chicago, who wanted to broadcast a tape recording from a loudspeaker on a high floor of the Chicago Hilton. The tape would tell the kids in Grant Park that the revolutionary was in the hotel, that they should storm the place and join him. Naturally, the kids would have been slaughtered by Daley's thugs and the National Guard. Naturally, that is what the revolutionary wanted. Naturally, he had no plans to really be in the hotel. I suppose that was a pretty clever revolutionary tactic. (The plan was never put in effect; too many objections from softies.) But personally I'm tired of the sight of blood. I've seen enough blood in the past few years to last me a lifetime; some of the blood I saw last year ran right through America, and the wounds haven't stopped hemorrhaging. For a year, we could do without the sight of blood; it would be even better if "intellectuals" would cease being enthralled at the prospect of seeing it spilled.
If I seem to have spent more time here talking about the sins of the left rather than the right, it is because the left these days seems more riddled with sloppiness, intellectual arrogance, cant, and self-deception than the right. It's easy to laugh at the right, because their shibboleths are so clumsily transparent. But the cliches of the left are more sinister, because the left should be the best hope for this country. If its basic emotions are hate and contempt, then it will get nowhere (consider the posture of Mr. Clean, Eugene McCarthy, so blinded by hatred for the Kennedys that he found it an easy matter to vote for a drunken lout like Russell Long in the contest for Senate majority whip). Above all it should be the duty of the left to talk straight, without clotting its rhetoric with gooey slabs of prose glop, and without accepting every example of paranoid rubbish as revealed truth.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.