So—at coffee: some general chat about how complicated it is nowadays to order coffee... It used to be "black" or "white", but you can't say that any more. .... What was offensive about the "Black and White Minstrel Show" after all? Where did all this "political correctness" come from?
I didn't have a voice with which to respond. I don't mean that I was reduced to craven pusillanimity, and feared to challenge this "bigotry"—because it wasn't bigotry. It wasn't off-limits. Here. But it might well have been, in the university.
I could have delivered an entire module on this. Or shut up (with few pathetic remarks about Al Jolson...) What I couldn't do was join in the conversation in the way it was proceeding among my companions, which was a succession of examples of “political correctness gone mad” interspersed with rhetorical questions such as “What's all that about, then?” Nothing at all wrong with that, of course; it was a social event at which having a conversation was more important than what the conversation was about. There was no expectation that any of us would have learned anything from it—which is of course what I should have expected in class.
But that was in a sense the issue. An entire career focused on conducting, or just contributing to, discussions which promote learning has created a rut for me. And I don't seem to be able to get out of it.
It's a pattern I can now detect in my social interaction with family and established friends, but we have accommodated to it and we are able to joke about it. It's possible that I have rather unfairly imposed my limitations on them—because I don't think it is by any means characteristic of most academics.
I'll need to learn some new tricks...