You hear it all the time; “It is political correctness gone MAD”, or “I am not very politically correct, but…” It is almost as if this thing called political correctness is a social evil alongside farting or slapping an old lady.
People love to trot out examples of political correctness ‘gone mad’, particularly the right wing media, who seem to regard it as some kind of insidious communist attack from within- perpetrated by a 5th column of Trotsky loving social workers. Here are some of the stories that have been doing the rounds;
Blackboards in school being renamed “chalkboards” to avoid offending black people.
Some schools having a “holiday tree” rather than a Christmas tree every “Winter Holiday Season.”
City councils banning Christmas to avoid offending Jews, Muslims, neopagans, and other non-Christian folk.
Manholes being renamed “Personnel Access Units” to avoid offending women.
“Baa baa black sheep” banned as having racist conotations.
Crowbars being renamed as they may have been called after ‘Jim Crow’ racist stereotype.
The problem is with these stories is that they are mostly celebrated separate from any verifiable evidence that they ever happened, but even when some evidence does exist, shawn of all context it is impossible to engage with any kind of dialogue about what was behind decisions that some poor bureaucrat was struggling with.
Reaction to what is perceived to be ‘political correctness’ sometimes seems rather hysterical- you could even say that it has ‘gone mad.’
But language does matter. How we talk about issues and words we describe people with shapes both the we see them, and the way others around us see them.
Language is a moving target however. I was reminded of this recently by a discussion about words like ‘cretin’, ‘lunatic’, ‘spastic’, ‘moron’; you still see them in old medical files where I work. They used to be diagnostic categories, but they became words of abuse. To be given labels like this was to wear a curse on a badge.
If it is ‘political correctness’ to seek speak of people who have been broken and marginalised with dignity and respect- then I am all for political correctness. I would much rather err on the side of the small people than worry about what the right wing tabloids think.