Who’s Offended?

I had a friend some years ago who enjoyed poking fun at others with impish insults, but always ending with the words, “no offense.”  The insults were intended as jokes but also reflected the traditional understanding that what constituted an “offense” was largely determined by the intent of the offender.  Harsh criticism, racial slurs and other demeaning accusations were easily understood by everyone as purposely offensive.  In less obvious instances, some who might be offended by particular words or actions, could often be placated by a reasonable explanation of the intent by the potential offender.  In his attempt at humor, my friend was taking advantage of this convention but clearly abusing the reasonable explanation part. 

In recent years, the determination of what is offensive has shifted to the  “offended.”  It started with complaints about Native Americans being used as sports team names and mascots, mostly put forth by tribal leaders and some  native organizations.  I cannot find evidence that many, much less a majority, of Native Americans have ever agreed with their leaders.  A Washington Post poll as recently as 2016, found that 9 out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the Redskins name.  They apparently agreed with those who defended the name as promoting positive traits, such as strength, pride and bravery. Nevertheless, by the early 2000’s, civil rights organizations, liberal politicians, much of the media and others had joined the cause, siting “ethnic stereotyping” and “cultural  appropriation.”  Swayed by growing pressure, High Schools, Colleges and professional sports teams across the country began changing their names.

By then, a similar campaign had begun against Confederate flags and monuments.  They were branded “offensive” by the same crowd, citing questionable claims that they promoted “white supremacy” and alienated Black Americans, all while ignoring their historical context.  Of the several opinion polls I could find prior to 2020, none showed more than a third of the public ever supported these assertions.  Nevertheless, the flags changed, and the statues began being removed or destroyed. 

The Left began to realize they could affect change and potentially, attitudes, with very little effort.  The magic word was “offended.”  All one has to do is claim to be offended by anything they don’t like or that goes against their political agenda. 

Offensiveness shares traits with “opinion,” which in words attributed to Plato “… requires no accountability, no understanding.”  It also requires no legal action, no proof of harm, no majority agreement, no explanation.  Just say you’re offended.  You can even be offended on behalf of others, who themselves, are not offended.

Retail companies, who don’t want to be seen as racist or unsympathetic, are the easiest to target.  After 77 and 95 years respectively, Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima are suddenly deemed to be racist stereotypes and removed.  Buoyed by these successes, progressives began actively looking for offenses.  Not having to provide reasonable cause and without fear of accountability, the list of potential offenders is unlimited. Kate Smith, the beloved singer of God Bless America is found to have recorded two songs, out of nearly three thousand, that contain words deemed racially offensive by today’s standards.  Never mind these were show songs written in the 1930’s and performed by many others, including at least one well know black performer.  Sports teams are pressured to stop playing her songs.  Dr. Seuss books, highly praised by even the Obama’s as recently as 2016, are now considered to portray racist imagery.  The Cat in the Hat is accused of being an “anti-black” stereotype.  The Betsy Ross flag is branded racist because it was designed and flown while slavery still existed in America and is removed from a popular Nike sneaker.  As if it couldn’t get any more absurd, Elmer Fudd, the cartoon character, is accused of promoting gun violence and bullying.

In light of this irrationality, one has to wonder, what’s really going on here?  Basically, it’s another attempt by the Left to deflect blame and avoid meaningful solutions to problems, largely of their own making. Most of these “offenses” are supposedly committed against Blacks and presumed to be contributing to failings within their communities.  Gangs, high crime rates, shootings, single parenthood, high unemployment, and low wages, to name a few.  Never mind, the absence of any meaningful data to support those presumptions or that anything has improved after names have been changed and statues and flags removed.  The reality is that liberal policies, beginning with Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” and continuing to today’s welfare programs, are the true root causes for most of these problems.  Democrats are both unwilling to admit their mistakes or to take the difficult steps necessary to remedy them.  It’s so much easier to just “take offense” and blame others.

If there are any doubts of the sincerity of offended progressives, one only has to see how they react when the tables are turned.  The most glaring example is the disrespect shown by many professional athletes towards the National Anthem.  When it’s played, many kneel to protest “racial injustice and police brutality.”  The gesture is deeply offensive to a large number of Americans, who consider the National Anthem and the flag it honors as representative of the freedoms we have in this nation and the thousands who have died to create and defend it.  This is not some newly found or unsupported offense, but one that is deeply ingrained in our nation and culture.  A YouGov/NBCLX poll last year found that 7 in 10 Americans, including nearly 6 in 10 Black Americans, are “proud” of the flag.

So how does the Left react to this undisputedly offense gesture?  They’re good with it.  They support it.  They offer praise for those doing it.  Never mind the  ambiguity, or outright fallacy of their motives if the athletes say their intent is not to offend. Professional sports leagues cave and allow protests against the National Anthem, while disallowing demonstrations for other types of personal or political causes.  Woke companies embrace the cause and Nike features the original kneeler, Colin Kaepernick, in sports ads, calling him “inspirational”.

In light of this blatant hypocrisy, it’s clear the offended scheme is nothing more than an extension of the politically correct movement.  Both are disguised attempts by the Left to limit free speech by the opposition while allowing it when it promotes their own agenda.

So, what is a rational thinking person to do?  For starters, refuse to participate or acknowledge their schemes, any more than you would acknowledge a schizophrenic’s imaginary friends.  Personally, I will continue to read Dr. Seuss books to my grandchildren, fly my “Betsy Ross” flag, and play Kate Smith singing God Bless America at our neighborhood 4th of July picnic.  I will not, however, patronize or do business with companies that promote the leftist agenda.  I have not watched ESPN or an NFL or NBA game since 2017, and I don’t purchase products from Nike, Gillette, Coca-Cola and other woke companies when I can avoid them.  Some say that boycotts like this “don’t work”, but they work just fine for me.  I find, at least, some measure of satisfaction in knowing I’m not supporting companies that have values very different from mine.  If enough people do it and it happens to hurt their bottom line, that’s an added bonus.  

No offense.

DISCLOSURE: This commentary is being communicated as general information and observations only and should not be taken as investment advice.  It is not investment research or a research recommendation, as it does not constitute material research or analysis.  The actions that you take as a result of information contained in this document are ultimately your responsibility.