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Scarlett Nation » Language » Political Correctness Gone Mad

Political Correctness Gone Mad

Picture if you will the following scenario:

A young lad and his mother are chatting about the boy’s new boyfriend. His mother has that ‘walking over a bridge with no knickers on’ look. After a while the phrase ‘well, it won’t be as easy for you to be parents as it would if you were normal…’ is uttered.

To my mind, there are two potential responses to this.

The boy can get justifiably offended. Heterosexuality isn’t normal, it’s just common, and to have your own mother casually refer to you as abnormal is a hurtful experience. He could quite easily make her feel awful for pointing that out – if he were eloquent and effective enough, he could probably make his mother feel as embarrassed or uncomfortable as she just made him feel. Which is exactly what she deserves, right?

Alternatively, the boy could stop her and calmly say why it is that he doesn’t like her to use that phrase.

I say that I see two possible responses, because I don’t think staying silent on the issue should ever be an option. Whoever you are, whatever your race or religion, whatever your gender identity or sexual orientation, and in spite of any other difference, you aren’t obliged to spend your whole life being belittled by others – accidentally or otherwise. I accept that certain phrases are politically charged regardless of intend and it’s important that we stop them from being used. However, it seems there’s a good and a bad way of going about it.

Of course, all reactions must be tempered by context. If the person you’re attempting to educate is yelling abuse at you and threatening you with a bottle, the calm and balanced approach may not get you all that far. Open prejudices are a different kettle of fish. But when we’re talking about offensive language, I’m willing to be that most of it is used by people who weren’t trying to offend, but instead didn’t know how not to.

It’s easy to think that something so important to you should be of equal importance to others – if it’s going to upset you so much when someone uses that word then they should make sure they don’t use it. Agreed. But are you 100% sure that you’d get the terminology right if you were talking to a completely different group? Sure, a black woman may think it’s obvious why a person shouldn’t say ‘coloured’, but would she be certain of her phrases if she were meeting with a group of Muslims for the first time? The disabled person who can’t believe people still jokingly say ‘spaz’, is he certain that none of his conversational words aren’t inadvertently racist, sexist, homophobic? I ask because shortly after taking option 2 and humiliating his mother, the boy in the above story was taken to task by another person who objected to his using the term ‘are you on the rag?’ (it was a fun party, that one)

When we think of the times we’ve said the wrong thing, as opposed to had the wrong thing said to us, it’s far easier to empathise with the person who just upset us so much. The chances are, they’re trying. Unless you know exactly what to do and say around any minority group in the country, you probably appreciate that it’s actually quite hard. That doesn’t mean you give up, but it probably does mean you get further by explaining your objection in an adult fashion. Because 9 times out of 10 the person you’re talking to won’t say it again now that they know, because they never wanted to be offensive.

The reason people talk about political correctness gone mad is because we go so mad about it – it’s not the rules that are the problem, it’s the enforcement of those rules. Someone says the wrong thing and instantly it’s ‘sack them!’ it’s ‘an internal enquiry’ it’s ‘this person is a RACIST!’ Actually, this person probably isn’t a racist; they probably just said a racist thing. There is a difference. And if it’s quite clear that this person has used the wrong term out of ignorance or a lack of understanding, what are we judging them for? If they’re wilfully ignorant, that’s one thing, but just not knowing everything from the get go? Does anyone? And isn’t that problem overcome better with explanation, rather than vitriol?

Words have great power, and live on long after the speakers do. The can hurt more than any blow and do more damage than any weapon and as such they must be treated with care – which applies as much to those responding to offense than those causing it.

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Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

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