Paul Greenberg

These days you don't have to believe anything in particular about race to be called a racist, for it's now used as just a general term of invective. Much as "Fascist!" or "Communist!" used to be all-purpose epithets for separate but equally uncreative types. To render a word meaningless, it is necessary only to use it promiscuously. It will soon lose its power.

When such terms lose their sting, others are needed to take their place. So another had to be invented to carry the opprobrium that Racist once did: Culturally Incompetent.

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Here in Arkansas, a judge who doubles as a demagogue when he tires of his day job -- the Hon. Wendell Griffen -- used the phrase not long ago to criticize the state's governor, Mike Beebe. It seems the governor had appointed a white instead of a black candidate to the state Supreme Court, and a white male at that. What a brazen violation of political correctness.

This was proof he was "culturally incompetent," according to Judge Griffen. Cultural Incompetence is the new, upgraded Racism; it has the advantage of sounding so much more scientific than mere racism.

So now those who do not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, class or sex, but just pick the appointee they consider best qualified regardless of race are called Culturally Incompetent. The phrase has an almost medical sound about it -- as if it were a diagnosis rather than an insult.

It is a rare moment when you're present at the creation of a new political slur. Catch phrases in politics tend to multiply in such numbers, like barnacles, that no one may be able to identify the precise moment when the first one attached itself to the ship of state. It's all you can do to just try to scrape them off.

A new pseudo-science dubbed Cultural Competence is springing up on the nation's campuses, especially in its departments and schools of education, where an inflated vocabulary long has been used to cover a multitude of ills -- from Social Promotion to Self-Esteem. This concept will soon enough filter down to state departments of education and local school districts. The way Diversity did. And like Diversity, it will soon enough become an industry complete with experts, consultants and subsidies from government and the larger corporations.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.