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.
Hi Chris. I have to say I feel very strongly about this subject and some of the words that are being over sought after, for changing. Apparently a ‘black’ coffee isn’t pc? Neither is ‘Black Sheep’? So what do we call them now then? I appreciated a coffee without milk is an ‘Americano’ but what do you call a black sheep? It IS a sheep after all and it’s fleece is near enough black? You surely can’t call it brown. After all, some people view skin colour in many shades. It’s not the colour of the skin that’s important, but the person inside. How long will it be before an Americano coffee becomes un-pc for fear of upsetting Americans? At the end of the day this pc stuff only seems to fit when people deem it relevant depending on their moods, and moods change. I know we are a queer race and change doesn’t sit well with some of us, but this is definitely something that has gone far too far. If children are educated properly and picked up on things that they hear not for the better, then un-pc words will eventually disappear, but please please NOT Baa Baa.
I wonder if the issue is where you encounter it, and who is proposing the new-speak, and how consistent they are. I still think that the impulse to speak goodness into marginalised people is a good thing. I do not think this can ever go too far. The way that some might use it as a tool of perhaps can of course, but any movement might become a victim of its own ambitions… Strangely enough I heard that the black sheep thing started as an urban myth that was taken seriously!
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