the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
The definition from Dictionary.com and there’s one absolutely KEY word and that is “perceived” – perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult..etc etc. Perceived by whom?
There are plenty of people out there who are prepared to “educate” us about how we should be using language e.g. Tess Thorson, Ph.D. Fellow at Aalborg University, based in New York, researching intersectional representations in film and media – I perceive her analysis of a Jonathan Pie video as both deep and deeply patronising at the same time – but I welcome the fact that she has the freedom to express it.
In the last few days we’ve seen stories in the news about students no longer clapping but using “Jazz Hands” instead to make events more accessible to those suffering anxiety. And we can no longer show the Shetlands in a box on a map…although authorities can avoid complying with this if they provide “information” about their reasons!!
Now I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of bits of language that we shouldn’t use – there are – although I perceive that there do seem to be more and more…and yet still more being added to the list – almost daily!
Take “black” and “white” for example – the meaning behind these two has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. My first wife was black, no sorry that should be Afro-Caribbean – or should it be BAME? Well when I was in Jamaica there was a clear divide amongst the locals which was dependent on their own perceptions of skin colour – black skin was perceived to have a higher status than brown skin – their perception not mine! My nickname , as given by the smiling, cheeky, kids on the hillside outside of Mo’ Bay was “whiteman” – I certainly wasn’t insulted, I felt accepted! Yet today “White” is an insult, a term laced with denegration and meant to demean.
We are constantly being told that we need to be more considerate, more inclusive, yet at the same time some people – comedians for example – are perceiving that they are far more constrained, that they now have less opportunity to poke fun at the things and people that damn well need to have fun poked at them!! Here’s Frankie Boyle back in 2015.
I find it incredibly worrying that we no longer need to hear the actual content of the thing we’re told to be offended by. We hear of people being arrested for tweets without the tweet being reported; comics are blasted for routines that aren’t printed; newspapers hire lip-readers to find something to get offended by at the tennis and then print the resulting fuckfest as asterisks. And who decides whether we should be outraged at something we haven’t seen or heard? The press. Our seething collective Id. None of us would trust a journalist to hold our pint while we went to the bathroom, yet we allow them to be ethical arbiters for the entire culture.
..and it’s not just journalists, see the good Dr listed earlier plus this article by Julia Watson which won The Economist’s Open Future essay competition in the category of Open Society – there are plenty of people keen to reduce your and my ability to use langauage.
To me, a believer in a meritocracy, a lover of language, and a lover of good comedy we need the freedom to be perceived as being “politically incorrect”- even though comedy is inevitably at someone or something else’s expense. It’s been at “my” expense, my late wife and I both howled at the numerous hard-core cancer gags that Frankie Boyle delivered at the New Theatre in Oxford back in 2012 (she died in 2013) – we didn’t perceive that he was being politically incorrect – just painfully funny.
And do you know what is the most worrying thing of all here? It’s the fact that it’s some appalling behaviour by no less a character than (yes you’ve guessed it!) Donald Trump that has pointed out the issue really is about perception.
Rahim Rashidi told Middle East Eye in an email on Friday that he felt “proud” and “honoured” being addressed as “Mr Kurd”.
“For a long time, the Kurdish people have been denied their self-right to Kurdish ethnicity,” Rashidi explained.
“Kurds have experienced assimilation and genocide, simply for being Kurdish. To be addressed as ‘Mr.Kurd’ means a lot to me. To recognize my identity when it has always been denied is a great deal for me. Especially by the president.”
Wow! I mean double-wow! Good on you Mr Rashidi – I applaud you!
Of course there are boundaries that normal life applies to the use of language to “highlight” various groups in society – and these boundaries and the groups they “highlight” differ from culture to culture – but all cultures have limits on what is acceptable, what is politically correct and what you can get away with. Embracing different groups and cultures is vitally important, we shouldn’t be seeking to exclude them BUT #FFS are you happy that:
- In 2007, Santa Clauses in Sydney, Australia, were banned from saying ‘Ho Ho Ho’. Their employer, the recruitment firm Westaff (that supplies hundreds of Santas across Australia), allegedly told all trainees that ‘ho ho ho’ could frighten children, and be derogatory to women. Why ? Because ‘Ho Ho Ho’ is too close to the American (not Australian, mind you) slang for prostitute.
- ‘Reliable’ and ‘hard-working’ – surely the two keystone employers look for in an employee? Well, maybe not: a Hertfordshire recruitment agency boss was once told she could not request those qualities – Jobcentre Plus in Thetford, Norfolk, told her such an advert could be “offensive” to unreliable people.
- Undoubtedly the rudest-sounding dish in your recipe book, Spotted Dick is pudding made with suet, raisins and currents. It dates back centuries – the earliest reference is 1849 – but that didn’t stop one overly concerned council from changing the name to Spotted Richard. Flintshire County Council was apparently sick of all the jokes, so changed the name – much to the chagrin of everyone else.
- Oxford University’s Equality and Diversity Unit tried to accuse people who avoid eye contact with others of ‘racist micro-aggression’ — before it was pointed out that such advice might be seen as discriminatory against people with autism who may struggle to look others in the eye.
- Suffolk County Council stopped using traditional signs warning drivers ‘Cat’s eyes removed’ after fears that real cats may have been killed to manufacture these reflective road safety measures. Ipswich resident Rebecca Brewer was reported as saying: ‘I have a five-year-old daughter who was very upset the first time she saw the sign — she really thought cruel people were torturing cats.’ Instead, signs across the county now state: ‘Caution, road studs removed.’
- Use of this braided hairstyle by white people is said to represent cultural appropriation. When the designer Marc Jacobs was criticised for using a group of predominantly white models wearing dreadlocks in a show, he argued — not unreasonably — that this was similar to black women straightening their hair. This was met with further outrage from (mostly white) commentators who complained that hair-straightening had been ‘forced upon the black community due to beauty ideals based on white archetypes’.
Well let me tell you – I’m not happy about that list. In fact the Daily Mail, that arbiter of good taste (NOT!) provides a complete A-Z guide for you to peruse and make your own minds up about – because it really is about you and how you perceive things.
But really you just need to be nicer to people – on a one to one basis, face to face. Be sensitive to other people’s situation but do not, never ever, stop highlighting what you perceive to be injustice, exclusion, racism, sexism or any other kind of ism and remember those words from your childhood…
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
I urge you, if you still have the stomach for it to watch Jonathan Pie’s Hammersmith Apollo show – there is an entire section on political correctness and despite what some might say – it’s spot on the mark! In fact let’s keep “political correctness” as a term specifically for politicians – those lying, mendacious, self-publicising egomaniacs who use and abuse language on a daily basis – causing offence to many, avoiding questions, taking our money and continually getting away with it – Trump, Johnson etc etc you know who you are.