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HIDING BEHIND A FOG OF EUPHEMISM

Man, the things I do for journalism. I mean, I've ventured into prisons, gone face to face with street gangs, reviewed Michael Bolton . . .

But the other day, I did something worse. I went to a chick flick.

And not just any chick flick. Indeed, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" was described by one critic as the "Saving Private Ryan" of chick flicks. But I had to gut it out. Had to take it like, well . . . like a man, even as the camera spent what felt like an Ice Age contemplating actor Taye Diggs' naked buttocks, and an audience full of she-wolves howled.

Your humble correspondent did not subject himself to this ordeal out of any interest in Stella's search for her misplaced groove. Rather, I was there to pierce the heart of euphemism.

You see, a few days back, I happened upon a blurb describing "Stella" as an "urban" romance. Now, my dictionary defines urban as being of or about a city, but it had been my impression -- and I bravely bought two tickets on my employer's tab to verify this -- that most of "Stella" takes place on the pristine shores of Jamaica and in Stella's fabulous suburban home. This flick has about as much connection to city life as Ted Kaczynski does. So how is it "urban"?

Well, duh. "Urban" is the '90s euphemism for Hispanic and black!

I'll save for another time the question of why someone felt it necessary to identify this standard-issue romance by the race of its characters. And I'll only note in passing that by this reasoning, "Private Ryan" is, I guess, a "suburban drama."

No, my complaint is simply this: We're drowning in euphemism.

I'm in full sympathy with people's desire to define themselves by terms that don't delimit or demean. But criminy, folks, it's getting ridiculous.

I've had more than my fill of phrases like "differently abled," "hearing impaired" and "visually challenged." As if "disabled," "deaf" and "nearsighted" were curse words, or the conditions that they describe something of which to be ashamed.

More than any of that, though, I am sick -- sick, I tell you, sick, sick, sick! -- of "urban." Hey, you can call me black, you can call me a person of color, even call me African-American if you want. But urban?!? What the heck is an urban?

I don't know, either, but one can hardly get through the paper without reading about the latest "urban" movies, "urban" music, "urban" comedians, "urban" issues and -- yeah, OK, you got me here -- the National Urban League.

My point here isn't racial or ethnic, but social and linguistic: I'm tired of weasel words. Tired, especially, of this particular weasel word, which strikes me as vaguely patronizing of blacks, Hispanics and anybody else with half a brain. If "urban" means that which is of the city, then "Seinfeld" was an urban comedy, was it not? And if urban denotes racial minorities, then why the subterfuge? Have "black" and "Hispanic" become taboo words? Why can't we just say what we mean?

Instead, we use words to hide what we mean, to fog, fuzz and obfuscate it behind ambiguous phrasing that's open to varied interpretations, leaving room for everyone to feel good about themselves. In seeking to avoid insult, we insult. If only intelligence. And to what effect?

I'm tall and bald. Does calling me "vertically endowed" and "follicly challenged" change either fact, or anyone's perception thereof? Of course not. Likewise, there is, for the record, no such thing as an urban.

I had to endure Taye Diggs' bare backside and the baying of she-wolves to prove that point. For which you folks ought to send me money and sympathy cards.

(Sorry -- trippin' again.)

Miami Herald

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