Friday, November 2, 2012

Politically Correct is No Longer Politically Correct

Because I declare it makes it so, right? Sure, why not?  Let's go with it...

But seriously, though, as I have aged, matured, and grown wiser, I have come to recognize that politically correct is usually not correct.  If anything, it's arrogant, elitist, and well, therefore, wrong.  At least as far as what it is intended to be.

The real term I think we need to adopt, instead, is political sensitivity.  And frankly I think that sensitivity needs to go in both directions.

I grew up on the East Coast, and growing up those of Asian descent - or at least certain portions of those of Asian descent - were referred to as "Oriental".  I knew nothing different until I moved to San Francisco - a city and an area with a large Asian population.  Now, I admit, when I hear the term "Oriental" it makes me cringe.  I have been properly re-doctrinated sensitized to the impropriety of using that term.  I've moved a little further closer to the East Coast than the West, and I hear it frequently.  I do think geography plays a part, sometimes, in the choice of terms that are used.

There is a fine nuanced - but quite emotionally charged - difference between a person of color and a colored person.  Grammatically, if the underlying word were something other than "color" the preferred word choice would be to lessen the number of words, and put the adjective before the word "person" and eliminate the word "of"/  An example:  "chair of wood" versus "wooden chair".  The second construction, grammatically, is much more preferred.

But political correctness usually has little to do with grammar, although it has everything to do with word choice.  Or should I say, choice of word?  You see my point.

I think rather than concentrate so strongly and so heartily on political "correctness", we should instead strive for political sensitivity.  Be sensitive that certain words may have a history that make them an undesirable choice to be applied towards others.  And be sensitive that sometimes people don't know what to say, and that rather than judge them solely on their choice of words, judge them on their intentions.  Feel free to educate them about how a certain word choice might not be the best choice, but do so gently, as your mother might have taught you it was not appropriate to use certain four letter words in polite company.  How many stories have you heard of toddlers using the word "fuck" or "shit" and getting a giggle and reaction so they use it again.  Until someone can teach them that it is not appropriate.

Yes, some people, like toddlers, use words deliberately to get a reaction.  You don't need to be sensitive towards those who are being insensitive to you.  It's been nearly twenty years since I moved to San Francisco - and frankly I can't remember the moment when someone informed me that my choice of words was not the best, but I imagine it was done gently.  The person who I said it in front of understood that I meant no offense, that I knew no better, and that it was not meant to harm. 

I think we are quick to find offense where none is intended, and create a bigger issue than is needed.  I think we do this at the personal level, and I think we do this at the political level.  And I think we need to stop, step back, and try to understand each other as humans, as individuals, and to not assume what was meant was mean or bad, and to try and return with kindness and understanding. 

This is not a new concept that I am iterating for the first time tonight.  I have touched upon it before.  I spoke about thinking of us as a collective - a Borg Collective - where we hurt ourselves when we hurt one another in We Are Family.  I talked about taking care with our choice of words in Sticks & Stones.  I wrote about it in Isn't Dyke Derogatory?  I thought I even had a post that was even more on point, but I am not finding it as I trip down blog memory lane. 

But the point I want to make is that we should treat each other with respect and hear more than just the words that come out of someone's mouth.  That respect goes both ways.  The person next to you might not have any clue that his words might be found offensive.  And the only way he will get a clue - and truly understand it - is if you explain it to him in a way that shows him you don't think he intended the potential consequence of his words, and another way he might express himself that is less potentially upsetting.  But look behind the words. 

As I write further, I think the post I am thinking of might still be a draft and unpublished.  I was on a radically pro-choice website a couple months back and posted a rather innocent comment that inadvertently did NOT use the politically correct words of the day.  MAN if I didn't get slammed.  Even when I tried to explain where I was coming from and my intention, there were many who could never get past the initial word choice that I used.  I reacted sensitively to their anger - and in the end, I didn't publish my post because I knew I was too upset to be able to step back and look at the situation more objectively.  Had I done wrong?  Yes and no.  I can see why a certain word choice MIGHT lead to certain other conclusions - even though I hadn't intended them.  But I hadn't intended them, and frankly, in my grand beautiful world of political sensitivity rather than political correctness, that would have meant something and had some value.  And I could have been gently guided into understanding the offense that certain words might generate.  But to just take offense over a word choice without looking underneath the words is just as offensive to me.

In church a few weeks back, one of the kids told another of our parishioners how they'd been kept home all week because they'd called their teacher a bitch.  This particular woman was - understandably - upset about it.  If it had happened to me (he then threatened to call her a bitch, I think), I don't think it would have upset me in the same way.  It's a word.  He's a kid.  He's trying to get a reaction.  And frankly, my job isn't to be liked by him.  If he likes me, bonus.  My job is to set a good example for him, be a role model, where possible, and to give him a positive experience rather than a negative one.  To educate him.  To help him understand the consequences of his actions, and with consequences that DO mean something to him.  (Yeah, I'm just SO great, wonderful, omniscient and omnipotent to do ALL that.. now who's talking about being arrogant?)

But if you can step back, in this example, and understand what the child is trying to accomplish - to gain attention - and to instead disarm that method and encourage him in other ways, you address the real issue. 

You can call me dyke, you can call me muff-diver, bitch, a whole host of words.  The words, alone, ideally won't upset me.  What will upset me, what will hurt, will be the intent behind them.  If you intend to hurt me, you may.  But frankly, as I learned when writing Sticks & Stones, and its follow-up, if it hurts me, usually it says more about me and my own issues than it does about yours. 

I don't know if this is at all coherent.  But I think one person, or one group of people, generally determining what is "correct" to say and what is "incorrect" and judging others solely by their choice of words - particularly if that choice is uninformed as to the potential meanings of such words - is simply arrogant.  It's elitist - we know what YOU can say, and you don't.  We are the arbiters of what is RIGHT, and you aren't.  It's arrogant.  And it's not useful.  Instead, be sensitive, and help others be sensitive.  Let's emerge into an enlightened world of political sensitivity.  Where there is no "right" and "wrong" but there is compassion and understanding for our fellow human beings.  Because as a society, in the end, we are one.  And what hurts one of us, hurts us all.  And what lifts up one of us, can lift us all up. 

You have been assimilated.  Resistance is futile.



  1. You always write so eloquently that I'm almost afraid to offer up comments on here, but I really feel I've got no choice but to comment this time. You really hit the nail on the head toward the end when you said, "if it hurts me, usually it says more about me and my own issues than it does about yours."

    When my kids were in the tattle-tale age, they would run to me with, "so-and-so called me stupid!"
    To which I would gently take the tattler aside and say, "And, do you think you're stupid?"
    The answer was always, "No."
    "And I don't either. Looks like they were wrong about you."

    Eventually they got the message. If it's only said to shock you or upset you, don't let it.

    1. Why thank you! You are so kind. Don't be afraid to leave comments, though. Even simple "Good job" is nice! ;) You should read Sticks & Stones post if you haven't already... and it's three follow-ups. Comment any time, my friend!

  2. Wow. I love this post.
    Which also reminds me I was referring to our raccoons as coons and my husband freaked. I asked why and found out it is a regional derogatory term. Here I had said coon all along, meaning the animal, but may at some point been thought of as being racist. I felt so bad and naive. I hope no one ever took offense