Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Political InCivility

The Backlash Against Equality

     For about 15 years, right-wingers have gleefully paraded the words, "Politically Correct" around as another in a line of derogatory words aimed at their political opponents. Why has PC gotten such a bad rap and what is PC?
     Conservatives decry "political correctness". They say that it's censorship, that it's the liberals removing moral clarity from our speech. The truth is that Democrats, liberals, and progressives don't use the words, "politically correct" except when quoting or refuting Rush, Neal, or some other right-wing idealogue. The fundamental misunderstanding here, in my opinion, is how the right wing sees PC (blurring the truth to make things feels better; removing value judgements) compared to how the left wing sees PC (removing exclusionary and often antiquated language from our lexicon). Some examples are using "firefighter" instead of "fireman", "police officer" instead of "policeman", "anchor" instead of "anchorman". While nobody would have an issue with calling a male cop a policeman, why would you call a female that? And if you did (as it's your American right to say what you want, even if it makes you sound like an ass), why would you not think it wouldn't be as insulting as if she called your father a "little girl"? At least English has gender-neutral words to use. Some other languages require the use of a slash (as in son/daughter).
     Maybe conservatives don't like giving up racial slurs? Some in the so-called "PC crowd" would ask people to stop using the word "gypped", as it refers to how a Gypsy might renege on a deal. Or "jewed", as it refers to how a Jewish person would bargain for a lower price. Or that ubiquitous middle school phrase, "that's so gay!" Is it really a hardship to stop insulting people (purposefully or not)? What on earth could be more awkward than this conversation: "The guy that bought my house really jewed me down" "I'm Jewish" It's awkward because the first speaker knows it's insulting.
     Of course people go overboard. In 1999, a mayoral aide in Washington DC had to resign because he used the word "niggardly", which has absolutely no connection to any racial term. But how is that any reason to treat people with anything less than respect? Is it really such a hard thing to learn - not insulting people you don't know? Is it really so hard to make sure that the words that come out of your mouth aren't racial or ethnic slurs? Can you really not resist telling your secretary that her boobs look fantastic today? What is so bad about human dignity that any attempt to be inclusive is immediately derided as "politically correct" and that being "politically incorrect" is such a badge of honor?

10 comments:

Ben said...

As someone who listens to a lot of those right-wing shows like Rush (ok, really I just listen to Boortz, and he's a libertarian, but has far more in common with Rush than Al Franken), I think I can shed some light on this matter. When railing against P.C. attitudes, they are not upset about calling someone a firefighter and not a fireman. What they are upset about is the P.C. kind of attitude that makes it evil racial profiling to think that an Arab man getting on a plane is more suspicious than an 80 year old decrepit white woman. They are upset with the P.C. sort of attitude that makes a suicide bomber a "militant freedom fighter" and thus deserving of sympathy. They are upset at the sort of attitude that forgives a crime because the suspect grew up poor. They are upset at the sort of attitude that allows a woman to show 3 inches of clevage, but still has the right so sue a man for sexual harassment if he happens to notice. They are not upset that Policemen are now Police-People, or whatever they are.

ignerens said...

I think PC worked pretty well. It got rid of alot of slurs (like jew). I really don't think people take the "fireman" vs "fireperson" thing very seriously anymore, but that's okay because not that many people take it seriously.

The examples Ben gives (apparently originally from rush & neal) are not PC. They are examples of close-mindedness.

1: Is it wrong for us to ponder the effects a poor upbringing had on a criminal's career choice? No. He still did the crime. Has no effect on the trial.

2: Is it too much to expect that men should act like gentlemen no matter what a woman is wearing? No. Don't dip your pen in the company ink. Fact of life.

And 3: I'm not touching that suicide bomber example. That's just baited!

Sylvana said...

"why would you not think it wouldn't be as insulting as if she called your father a 'little girl'?" - that's a great argument! And I totally agree with you that people shouldn't be so resistant to treat other people with dignity and respect. I get so sick of the screw-you attitude that seems to abound these days. Why is it a crime to be considerate?

sideshow bob said...

Don't be so hard on the "militant freedom fighters"! This country was founded by people who "wouldn't fight fair". From a purely pragmatic standpoint, these terrorists (sadly, due to the paranoid nature of our country, I actually have to say here that I don't agree with them) are using the tactics that have the best chance of succeeding. If we don't take even a moment to just try to see the world through their eyes, this problem will never be resolved. I suggest reading the graphic novel "Palestine"...don't worry, it won't turn you into a terrorist, or, gasp, a liberal. I just think the more points of view you see the world from, the better you understand.

Ben said...

I suppose Israel and Palestine is not an arguement I really want to get in to here, and shouldn't have brought it up. Suffice it to say, I've read many books on both sides of the subject, and feel my opinion is rooted in a solid knowledge base on the issue.

That said, I have no problem with according everyone the dignity a human deserves, and have never had a problem changing a term to suit someone's sensitivities.

Mike said...

Scott, I think you're incorrect in suggesting that conservatives have a problem with PC words that label people. I have no problem with "african american" (although Africans have a problem with it). And I don't mind using firefighter instead of fireman. I think Ben hit on it more. There is a definite double standard in this country. When colleges used affirmative action on their application process they are commended as noble, but when a student group decides to have an affirmative action bakesale, it is called hatespeech. We live in a country where a white high school teacher is fired for wearing an afro wig and brown shoe polish on his face but the Wyann brothers can make millions off a movie where they dress up as white women. It seems like people are constantly finding new ways to be insulted. Like when that artist spoke at a university and spoke about the way to have a successful marriage. Later, some gays in the audience complained that they were offended that she only spoke about heterosexual relationships. She didn't say anything derogatory in her speech, just didn't mention them. What concerns me is we're becoming a society where nobody knows the rules anymore and there are two sides to every issue. Anything you say can be spun around to offend someone. And usually it is conservatives being pointed at. Personally, I think democrats use political correctness to make minorities think conservatives are insensitive. I know that probably isn't very politically correct to say.

Scott said...

Did you just suggest that a high school teacher should use Hollywood as a basis for standards? Listen, if that's the case, I expect my kids to have Tara Reid or Britney Spears teaching sex ed.
Comparing a teacher's behavior to what makes money in a movie is ridiculous. A Black teacher would be fired for dressing up like a White girl too. I should hope teachers are held to a higher standard.

Mike said...

I did not say a high school teacher should use hollywood for the basis of standards. Nice jump there. But thanks for making my point for me. "Teachers are held to a higher standard" Why do we have a different set of rules for different people?
How about my other examples? Why can colleges give preference to minority students but student organizations can't have affirmative action bakesales?

Ben said...

Speaking of bakesales, almost every campus that had one, the "offended" folk grathered, ripped down signs, threatened violence, etc., while the Young Republicans calmly sold their cookies. Then the cops would come and shut it down because it was encouraging violence. No, the bakesales weren't encouraging violence. The people who are scared of the bakesales because they point out how racist quotas and affirmative action are, are encouraging violence.

Ben said...

And what about someone like Larry Summers? The Harvard President made a speech in which he said that maybe there is a genetic difference in men and women that makes men more predisposed to hard science and math, and women to more liberal arts and subjective type things. He didn't say he believed it himself, just opened it up to possiblity. One woman, a professor at Harvard, said she had to leave the room before she became sick, and now he may lsoe his job, after getting a vote of no confidence. That is definitely political correctness run amok. I mean it's obvious too all but the dumbest person on Earth that the average man is physically stronger and faster than the average woman. Why is it so sickening to imagine that there are differences in our minds, as well?