The New Political Correctness
When I was growing up, my understanding was that political correctness meant those words you weren’t allowed to say. “Visually impaired” instead of blind, “African American” instead of black, “vertically challenged” instead of short, etc.
I often find myself accused of being the PC Police. Which sometimes strikes me as odd, because I’m pretty sure I’ve never told someone what words they could or couldn’t use … whereas I often feel like I’m being told there are certain words I shouldn’t use, and that by doing so I destroy all meaningful discussion.
I’m calling this the New Political Correctness, and I’ve come up with a few examples to illustrate.
Racist – I’ve been told that accusing someone of being racist is worse than being racist. This is one of those nuclear words that is unacceptable to the NPC Police. To call a person or their actions racist is to attack and bully them. The fact that one SF/F collection after another claims to represent the best of the genre while including almost exclusively white authors isn’t racist, because the editors are colorblind and only interested in quality. So from now on, please use the NPC term “chromovisually impaired.”
Sexist – I remember the first time someone told me there was no sexism in the SF/F genre. After all, the women in publishing outnumber the men! Even though women get paid significantly less. Also, romance! (Because in every one of these conversations someone is required to point out, “But girls write more romance novels!”) Bottom line, calling someone sexist is a no-no, and will get you labeled an instigator or a devotee of fail fandom. So the next time someone mentions that works by men get disproportionately reviewed over works by women, don’t call it sexist! These numbers simply “fulfill the masculinity quota.”
Bigot – Calling someone a bigot is like running over an old lady in your Jeep, then stealing her kitten and feeding it to a velociraptor. Don’t do it. (Though if someone else uses that word, you can call them a douchebag, dick, or pretentious asshat, as these are all NPC-approved terms.)
Privileged – Some people find this word so offensive that they’ll refuse to read any post or essay that uses it. This is a bad word. A naughty word. A word that likes to be tied up and spanked hard. Shun this word, or bring shame to your family! Remember, if “those people” would just work harder, they’d overcome all societal and institutional barriers. Because everyone’s equal! So instead of describing someone as privileged, please use the family-friendly term “disproportionately equal” instead.
Homophobic – Would you believe that in the unenlightened past, it was acceptable to use “homophobic” to describe statements and actions that reflected a fear of the damage homosexuality would do to our great nation? Fortunately, we in 2011 are civilized and have moved beyond such hateful terms. So the next time someone suggests the people should overthrow the government if it ever sanctions same-sex marriage, remember — they’re not homophobic. They’re “Takei adverse.”
I hope it’s obvious that this is all rather tongue-in-cheek. I know people disagree with me on all sorts of issues, and that’s fine. I get that sometimes words are used imprecisely, that some words are more powerful than others, and that the internet can be a hotbed of accusations and counteraccusations. But dude, when you accuse me of being the PC Police and then turn around and suggest that nobody should use the word “racist” because it’s such an ugly term? That scores about a 9.6 on the eye-rolling scale.
September 21, 2011 @ 11:00 am
I actually had someone tell me I was being judgemental by pointing out how I won’t tolerant homophobia in my home. Serious. She said, “You know you’re being judgemental by saying this.” Uh, I don’t get it. So I’m judgemental if I teach my son to be tolerant of gays and not to judge them?
Jim C. Hines
September 21, 2011 @ 11:03 am
You could argue that it’s a judgement, sure. I judge homophobia to be wrong, and I act on that judgement. But the idea that “Oh, you’re just as bad as the bigots because you’re judgmental against bigots!” is rather ridiculous…
September 21, 2011 @ 11:09 am
I love your posts. I get that this is tongue in cheek, but also in some instances, I’ve felt exactly like this.
I don’t suppose it’s possible to post your ‘eye-rolling’ scale? 😉 Thank you for sharing.
Jim C. Hines
September 21, 2011 @ 11:14 am
I can (I hope) be tongue-in-cheek while also making a point 🙂
I will be happy to post the eye-rolling scale just as soon as I finish developing it, which — given my current deadlines — should be approximately never.
September 21, 2011 @ 11:32 am
“Racist,” “privileged,” etc. have become fighting words, because they are used to wound more often than they are to educate. Do we really want to change people’s minds, or just preach to the choir? I get the feeling, more often than not, that people on both sides of the political spectrum prefer Option B. We would rather focus on getting thumbs-up from people who are already on our side. It’s too scary to even temporarily get inside the mind of a racist or homophobe and understand why he may feel that way.
September 21, 2011 @ 12:28 pm
Political correctness is the realm of Takei adverse pretentious asshats. They’re the people who are offended in lieu of the minority they suspect is offended (i.e. The PC brigade will be offended by, say, a black joke whereas blacks may not find it offensive). To be honest, I find PC attitudes *more* offensive. The term “Special Olypmics”, for example. I support it, I really do, but the term “Special Olympics” is so darned patronising!
Then again, I don’t like the opposite either. In the UK we have a show called “Live at the Apollo”, which is basically comedians coming on stage and being funny. Some of the black comedians were coming out with some really, really close-to-the-line jokes, and I believe one of the Islamic comedians did the same. Yeah, guys, racist jokes aren’t funny *regardless* of your skin colour.
Ahem. But yes, quite a good post there Mr Jim.
September 21, 2011 @ 12:34 pm
The only thing I will not tolerate is intolerance….
September 21, 2011 @ 12:41 pm
There was a saying I heard somewhere, when I was first trying to discover the spiritual belief system that worked best for me: “We can never have a true tolerant society, because we would have to tolerate the intolerant.” This reminded me of that….
I had something witty to say, but promptly forgot, so I leave you with just the above. 🙂
September 21, 2011 @ 12:55 pm
The significant word in “political correctness” is the first one. When we were kids it was politically expedient to be inclusive. There has been an ugly change in the zeitgeist. Now you gain more points with an “us vs them” way of speaking. Calling someone out on their isms puts you on the “them” side.
September 21, 2011 @ 1:43 pm
This is the best thing Ive read all day, and I just read “Baby’s Got Books” so that’s saying something.
September 21, 2011 @ 2:06 pm
This is great. Though I have to admit that I personally prefer “Takei adverse” to homophobic; it gives me something to smile at instead of just making me sad and scared that there are people out there who hate me just for being me.
I understand the idea that these words are sometimes used just to shock or wound. But sometimes that’s ok. I have an African-American coworker who recently had a major problem with some new African-American neighbors. When she told me about it, she made a number of comments having to do with the race of these neighbors. At first I just said that the problem had more to do with them being idiots than black, and that there were plenty of idiots in every race, but she didn’t stop the comments. Finally I had to say “What you’re saying is racist, and I’m not comfortable listening to that.” She was hurt at the time but a few minutes later came and thanked me. She really hadn’t realized that she was being so racist (after all, she’s black herself) and it took that shock to make her aware.
September 21, 2011 @ 3:22 pm
I like that story. It’s pleasing to know there are people out there who can hear criticism and get past the pain it causes and recognize they need a change.
September 21, 2011 @ 5:11 pm
*shrugs* I’ve got four Black sisters *gasp* oops i said the word~! so what? most black people prefer the term ‘Black’ over ‘African American’ and you know why? as my youngest sister so eloquently put it “I wasnt born in Africa i’m just American!” She’s 13 now… And you know what i perfectly agree with Anita up there… There are idiots in every race, and even talking bad about your own race is still racist… But when half of your family if of a different race, you pick up on more stuff than normal. Heck… I’m a cashier at Walmart and i told a man to get out of my line due to his blatant racial comments about a Muslim gentleman i was Cashiering for. You can call me an instigator or a protector or whatever, but growing up in my family, and dealing with the crap life throws at you when in a mixed race family, even out here in Utah, i dont put up with it. I tell you to shut it and have some respect. We all inhabit the same planet we should all drop it and grow some balls. sorry lol i’m kinda fed up with the stupid people of the world, even tho i am one myself lol. But a perfect example of the whole Steriotype scenario is this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCgx8zM3woQ. Have Fun everyone.
Daniel D. Webb
September 21, 2011 @ 5:58 pm
Oh, I enjoyed this post. In fact, I think the reason I enjoyed it is the very reason this issue has become an issue: people seem universally afraid to express any judgment about anything.
I draw a distinction, here, between having judgment and being judgmental. The one is something you must do in order to function and survive; the other is an attempt to impose your perspective where it does not belong. The original political correctness I think was somewhat silly, if well-intentioned, but you’re absolutely right about the new kind, Jim. It looks a lot like a weapon in the hands of those who wish to exploit and attack those they don’t favor.
It must be said that the old political correctness paved the way for the new by creating the idea that giving offense is, itself, disproportionately offensive. The NPC, as you call it, thrives only where the worst thing you can do is hurt somebody’s feelings.
Ironically enough, the solution to offense and bigotry in general is just old-fashioned empathy and communication, a cause which is harmed, not aided, by placing limits around what can and cannot be openly discussed.
September 21, 2011 @ 6:14 pm
Awesome post! I agree entirely.
Political correctness can be a tough issue sometimes. I’m a firm believer that words have power and help define reality, so some labels themselves can be hurtful and wrong to use. However, I also know that it can swing too far the other way and a dominant group can decide that we need to relabel a smaller group for their own good, which unintentionally ties into a whole heap of ugly “we know what’s best for you” harm that is just as bad or worse. This was explained to me by an American Indian philosopher who said that no Indian he ever met used the term ‘Native American’ because it was a label white people decided was best for Indians to be called without ever asking e Indians. That’s just a head-shaking silly term to them, but underlying it was the same attitudes that lead to devastating “assimilation” programs that wiped out the cultural history of dozens of tribes “for their own good”. it’s been almost a year, and I still feel uncomfortable calling them American Indians after a lifetime of being told it was wrong, which is really bizarre considering it’s their own preferred term despite what the rest of us think is right or wrong.
So I definitely think we need to be careful and often change the terms we use for vulnerable groups, but it’s best when those groups drive the effort, not us disproportionately equal, white, able-bodied males. 😉
By the way, “disproportionately equal” has got to be my favorite term in a long time. I have to make sure and work that into my ethics classes. Thanks!
Jim C. Hines
September 21, 2011 @ 6:54 pm
Agreed … my general take on it has been that people have the right to decide what labels to use for whatever groups they belong to.
September 23, 2011 @ 1:59 pm
“disproportionately equal” — I literally fell on the floor laughing. Thank you so much, I intend to use these judiciously.
Telling someone that they are being politically correct is an attempt to dismiss someone in a less powerful social group by claiming that he or she has all the power in society to unfairly dictate language and behavior, instead of what they’re usually doing — pointing out something that they feel is harmful and discriminatory and oppressive, often unconsciously so, that tends to dominate in the society and leave the less powerful group with less opportunities and less say in their own existence. So the New Political Correctness is perfect as these complaints always imply powerlessness and victimization of the powerful group and that these should be the correct worries of our society. And they often have the politics on their side.