I Couldn't Care Less: Political Correctness Gone Sane

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Political Correctness Gone Sane

We're a multicultural group here, so it's entirely possible that you're not familiar with the concept of political correctness. Put simply, the idea is to guide people as to how they can talk to other people, people who may be members of a different religious/ethnic group, have disabilities or a sexual preference or lifestyle choice that makes them out as in some way different to you. So you can't call women birds, the disabled X1, black people Y2 or Muslims Z3 heads, for example.

Now I can imagine you might be able to spot the two difficulties buried in there. The first is that while some people don't like these terms being directed against them , some do. Context is, of course, all. If you call your Muslim best friend 'Z4 head' as an innocent, affectionate nickname (if that doesn't make sense to you then it may be an English thing) then it's different from shouting 'oi Z5 head #!$* off back to where you came from' across the street at a bloke wearing a turban. Also, people tend not to like being told what to do, or say. They especially bridle at being told 'that thing you are saying might cause offence to him' to which they reply 'well then he can say so himself can't he?'

The first problem is caused by being over-zealous, as some people are wont to do when you give them rules to enforce. The thing is, it's a social guideline, it's not the law. Nobody has been empowered to tell people they 'can't' say these things6, merely encouraged to suggest that it's not nice. And I think it's mainly because the message isn't really being transmitted properly that the second problem arises.

A few years ago I was describing a colleague of mine to a new member of staff and happened to mention that she was black. 'You can't say that!' I was immediately told. But that doesn't fit the rule at all. Saying someone is black is not the same as judging them for it. The colour of a person's skin, like the colour of their hair, or indeed their gender (not the colour of their gender, just to be clear) is, in the context of describing someone, useful as a descriptor. 'Who's this person you speak of who I have not seen yet?' 'She's the dark skinned lady with the American accent'. That pretty much differentiated my colleague from everyone else without saying anything remotely hurtful. My rebuke had come from someone genuinely keen to adhere to the principle, but confused as to how it worked.

The other side of the coin is made of people who fail to understand the principle and therefore choose to ignore it. These are the people who ask why an offended person can't speak up for themselves. Well that should be at least a little bit obvious. The answer is because people in the sort of minority groups who tend to get tagged with names they find hurtful can easily feel too small and isolated to speak up. They are, sometimes, if not always, the vulnerable and fragile ones. It's up to us to speak up for them. This is of course the same logic that urges people to defend someone who does not wish to be defended, but I think it's better to care too much rather than not at all.

And that, with almost all my keypad bashing done, is how this all relates to caring. Not in the more specific sense that I have tended to use caring, but in the broader sense of the general feeling that other people matter. So let's scrap 'political correctness' as a title. You can't put 'political' in a term and expect people to like it, and saying 'correct' just goads the non-conformist in people. Let's see if we can cope without a catchy little title and simply understand the idea: There are people whose feelings may be hurt by the words that you use, and there are people who are concerned about the people whose feelings may be hurt. Please try and regard these people as important, and act accordingly.

Articles by benjaminpmoore Archive


11.03.13 Front Page

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1Our author didn't use a terribly bad word here, but he used one our filter wouldn't accept. Note the title of this article.   – Editor.2See above.   – Ed.3Ditto.   – Ed.4Ditto.   – Ed.5See above.   – Ed.6Except the filther.   – Ed.

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