I found this “Hu’s on First” exchange between Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush on cross cultural marketer and international sales strategist Cindy King’s website. She was using it as an example of why it’s important to “ask follow up questions to confirm mutual understanding.”
The video is funny in and of itself, and some (most-giving deference to generational differences) will recognize it as a parody of the Abbot and Costello skit “Who’s on First” from 1945.
Initially I found it completely innocent (assuming one agrees that making fun of Bush’s intelligence is fair game and funny), but there were a couple of things in the Bush voiceover that threw me off guard: “Your pissing me off now Condi, and it’s not because you’re Black” and “cut the Ebonics crap.”
Particularly the latter comment struck me as possibly racist or demeaning to Ms. Rice (which of course bares my own underlying bias as to who it’s okay to publicly ridicule). There’s a good 12+ year history to when the term Ebonics became popular, from supporters who equated it to ESL for non-native English speakers, to “Black leaders and intellectuals…(who)… condemned as racist the separatism that would result from any recognition of Black English.”
Back to why we should care and what this means to intercultural communications? A simple beware of adding generalizations or potentially controversial statements to presentations if they don’t add to the message, especially when underlying meanings, origin or full context for the term or idea detracts from the point we are making.
The intent may be to be funny, but it can backfire.
For example, let’s say you come home and are delightedly surprised to find that your spouse (or partner, child, etc.) has done the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. Would you say 1.) Thanks, honey, how thoughtful. or 2.) Thanks honey, how thoughtful…is today a national holiday?
Which message do you think will elicit a hug and a kiss? Which one might tune you out forever? And back to the video, is my sensitivity to the Ebonics reference justified, or ‘political correctness’ gone awry?