Saturday, May 6, 2017

On Political Correctness.

"The language police."

"Snowflake."

"Stop being so politically correct."

What does that phrase mean, anyway?

Let's bypass a definition for a minute, and think about who would use such a phrase. Picture a person who would scold another for being "politically correct" in your mind. Get a feeling for who this person might be, what their life is like. Get inside their head.

I'll give you a minute.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Got it? Yeah, I do too. Let's compare. Is your person...
  • white?
  • generally surrounded by other white people most of the time?
  • nominally, at the very least, Christian?
  • straight?
  • able-bodied?
  • probably male?
Wow, what a coincidence: my person is, too. Why is that, I wonder? Why does someone who, by all measures, is in a position of power in our society and is likely, in no real way, discriminated-against in their daily life... so cheesed-off when it comes to things like this?

Because, if you're in power, you want to stay there. If you fit most or all of the above bullet-points, there's a decent chance that you are, either explicitly or implicitly, at an advantage in our society. As such, you probably don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about why people who aren't in a position of power are where they are, and how their daily lives are harder than yours.

Thinking deeply about the language you use on a daily basis, and what it means, is not something that a lot of people do. As a baseball fan, I must say, I didn't really think a whole lot about the implications of the name of Cleveland's major-league club until a few years ago. Did Christopher Columbus really think he'd landed in India, and label the inhabitants of that land as such? Regardless of whether or not he did, it's been over 500 years; you'd think we'd have erased that misconception by now. Hell, in that length of time (and with some to spare), the word "manufacture" flipped its meaning entirely around from "being made by hand" to "being made by machines." (Think about the French word for "hand." Or the word "manual.")

If you spend an extra half-second thinking about whether to use a "politically correct" word -- one that is less likely to offend some group of people, as opposed to tossing off something that might offend -- well now, that isn't a lot of time to take, is it? I just spent the last 40 minutes on YouTube watching trick baseball play compilations. The least I can do is take a split-second to pay a little respect to a group of people that may have been kicked-around for a while.

I can't remember when or where I heard it, and I may be butchering the original statement, but the sentiment goes like this: "Being 'politically correct' basically means you're 'not being an asshole'." That's a sentiment I can generally abide by.

Do some people take it to far? I mean, I guess so, maybe? I'm not sure. I do recall a province-wide annual union meeting where "O Canada" was played to kick it off, and someone got up on a red card afterward to say, "I think we should stop playing 'O Canada' until the decolonization and oppression of Indigenous Peoples in this country is over." His concern was a valid one, but perhaps it could have been expressed differently. I do know that, to start this year's meeting, they had a group of kids sing "O Canada" (they were very good, by the way; I tend to dislike sung renditions of national anthems and generally prefer instrumentals), but then there were three Indigenous women who led us all in a traditional welcoming ceremony, with smudging and a turning to the four cardinal directions.

That was pretty interesting, I must say. Would it have happened if that original statement wasn't made (which produced much eye-rolling at the time, and not just from me)? I'm not sure. I know that our society has changed in recent years, likely in response to the Truth and Reconciliation report, to acknowledge and incorporate Indigenous values into things like this.

So, put yourself into the shoes of someone who would've been in attendance at the meeting, but thought that the Indigenous ceremony "went to far" or "wasn't necessary" or "come on, let's just get on with the meeting." Without caricaturizing too much, why might someone feel that way? Again, I think about the bullet-point list above and can't help but picture someone in my mind who fits that description.

These days, of course, with Donald Trump being the goddamn President of the United States (that still blows my mind), that seems to have given the green light for assholes to be assholes again, openly and without restraint. Perhaps a bit less so in Canada, but we can't help but be influenced by our neighbours to the south (or, if you're in Windsor, north). Or, maybe we're only hearing about some isolated incidents that get reported-on more often now. Tough to say. In the meantime, I'll just try not to be a jerk and see how that works out for me.

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