Political Correctness: Preventing Discussion, Protecting Silence
So here is the problem with political correctness. People use these blanket rules to dictate what they say and when they find themselves in the foggy area, where they are not sure what they’re “allowed to say”, they say nothing. Frankness prevented; intimacy censured; knowledge not gained and therefore lost, and maybe… a fight prevented. Maybe.
The fear that we may say something wrong, that we may get ourselves labeled as ignorant, it keeps us from asking questions and from engaging in the conversations that will provide us with valuable tools for empathy. People should work earnestly to increase their understanding of other people’s plights, the adversities they encounter due to the circumstances of their lives. Political correctness may stop some very unkind things from being said, some feelings from being hurt but what is learned from those things left unexamined? Nothing.
People are terrified of confrontation. But confrontation is an irreplaceably valuable vehicle for change. Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Gordon Hirabayashi; are all examples of people who summoned their courage to ask difficult questions, learned about themselves and others and challenged what people knew. It wasn’t a comfortable process, this progression in civil rights. Maybe we have to be awkward and expose the raw pink skin of our tiny understanding before we can make things right for more people. Maybe we should worry less about being “correct” and work harder at being sensitive while we learn about each other.
Statements from the book “35 Dumb Things Well-Intentioned People Say” by Dr. Maura Cullen that resonated with me as being painful to hear.
“Some of my best friends are…” You may as well end this statement with “one of YOU people.” Because that is what is implied. There is me and my people who are like me and then there are all of you others, who I have benevolently befriended as a demonstration of my open-mindedness. Quit qualifying people by their aesthetics or their sexuality.
“It was only a joke…” To you. It was only a joke to you. Some things are serious whether you take them that way or not. Some hurts are real and current even if you don’t feel them yourself. If you have to preface a joke with “I’m not racist/sexist etc. but…” Then it is and you are. Quit perpetuating ignorance.
“What do ‘your’ people think?” Unless you’re referring to a person’s immediate family group for which you can safely assume they have an accurate understanding of the collective opinion, don’t ask this question. You cannot find out what gay people think by asking one gay person. Thankfully, identifying with a certain lifestyle does not mean your ideas will fall perfectly in line with all the other people who identify with that group.
“Why do ‘they’ always have to sit together? They are always sticking together.” First of all people are very often attracted to what they know or things they have some commonality with. Second, unless you’re making this statement to someone very different from you, then ask yourself the same question and examine the answer.
Adding my own dumb things that well intentioned people say: “A pretty girl like you? You’re sure to get the job/get an A.” Well that’s good. At least I have one marketable skill… I mean feature. I guess the efforts into expanding my understanding of other cultures, my ability to write a reasonably entertaining document, my inability to cook bacon correctly … None of that matters. I just have to find those persons who are attracted to me and get them to hire me and then go from there. That seems like a solid plan. Note: I debated using this example. It smacks of sounding like the white man’s burden. Complaining about the perceptions people have about one of my (completely subjective) privilege. But I decided that instead of worrying about political correctness, I would focus on what is true for me in my experience and share it.
I also feel I should mention that one of the items listed in the book “You speak the language really well” seemed a poor choice to include. People put a lot of work into learning new languages, being able to speak it well (which I would interpret to mean that they can speak it in a way that can be understood by a native speaker) should be something that can be safely complimented. Because there is a right way to speak a language, because it results in other people understanding what is said. I feel that to take offence at such a statement falls into that category of people being afraid of sincere dialogue and being over-sensitive. So unless a more convincing argument can be made, I’m not convinced this statement is anything other than a compliment.