We don’t always get to call the shots

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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  I led off my entertainment column last week with a phrase that I thought was the perfect description of the weather we were experiencing. It was a term that I have used many times and heard many of my relatives, teachers and even members of the media use, with a fondness for that particular brief fall warmup. 

My esteemed editor took exception to that phrase and asked me to change it, which I did without argument. This isn’t the first time that I’ve used an expression that I assumed was perfectly innocent, only to have my editor let me know that I have committed the sin of being too un-PC to have my words show up in the Highway 58 Herald. From my past experience, I have learned that I don’t have the time or energy to argue a point with my editor, even if I feel strongly, in my heart of hearts, that I am right.

I grew up with Native Americans. They were Indians then, and they were my neighbors, classmates, teammates and friends. They were also Winnebagos then. Now they are the Ho-Chunk people. Their leaders did what they could to help the fortunes of the members. They got a boost, like many tribes, when they were given the go-ahead to open a casino. I’m happy that the Ho-Chunk people can enjoy a degree of prosperity many years after their homeland was taken from them.

There are many terms that are plainly derogatory to Native Americans, although, oddly, they all begin with the term “Indian”. Thank Christopher Columbus for giving them a name that is associated with a place and people half way around the world.  I can certainly see why our indigenous population didn’t like to be called Indians, and had no fondness for Colombus, as well.

The term I attempted to slip into my story was “Indian Summer”. Through my internet search I was unable to come up with any definitive evidence that this is meant as a derogatory term toward Native Americans. It seems clear to me that the term, to most people, means a pleasant warm spell late in the fall.

While relating my tale of having to expunge “Indian Summer” to my brother, who is also a newspaper columnist, he informed me of the origin of a term that he was taken to task for using in a recent news article. I always assumed that the term “grandfathered in” was something that gave a property owner an excuse not to conform to current zoning standards because the changes had taken place before those laws were passed. That is, of course, what “grandfathered in” means to most people, but the origin of that term comes from a racist policy that states used to keep Black Americans from voting.

Because of a law passed in 1867, if your grandfather had been allowed to vote, then you would also be allowed to vote. No Black person’s grandfather had ever been able to vote, so they were subject to literacy tests and poll taxes and other restrictions to keep them from being able to cast a ballot, while illiterate whites could vote without restriction. There seems to be no movement to take this common phrase out of usage.

I would be the last person on earth to disparage someone else because of the circumstances of their birth. I will, however, cast judgment on my fellow humans based on the way they comport themselves and in their kindness and truth that they show the world. I’ll give everyone a fair chance to make a first impression. You’ll have to give me a better reason to take the term “Indian Summer” out of my vocabulary.

Editor’s note: Highway 58 Herald adheres faithfully to The Associated Press Stylebook. And The AP Stylebook forbids using the term “Indian Summer.” 



Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass Ben Olson photo

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