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[personal profile] sonneillonv
I hear this approximately once a week. "It's political correctness gone/run amok!" I'm fortunate that I usually hear it on TV, or on the radio, or I see it written somewhere on the internet. The people who are saying it are usually not connected to me in any way, which is good; if they were, we'd have an argument. In fact, I have had that argument repeatedly with one of my best friends. We've since resolved not to talk about it, or indeed, about anything remotely political.

The reason is this: I don't think Political Correctness Run Amok is a bad thing.

Those who do think it's a bad thing usually phrase their disapproval in terms of 'free speech', even though they still have the legal right to say offensive things. It's just that others have the legal right to call them out on it... free speech goes both ways, and tellingly, that's the part they don't like. Others claim they are disgusted by how 'soft' and 'thin-skinned' people are nowadays... don't you know that a slur only has as much power as you give it? And repeating narratives which have historically marginalized and oppressed specific people groups is actually done in a total vacuum - nothing you said is part of or contributes to that overall narrative. Every man is an island, etc. and so is every thing that comes out of his mouth. They define 'political correctness' as an over-complicated dance of the hours in which we tip-toe over egg-shells loaded with landmines in the hopes of sparing the poor delicate fee-fees of anyone who might happen across our path.

I define 'political correctness' as 'making a deliberate effort to not be an asshole'.

You can see why we disagree on the necessity of this.

At the root, I think this issue is one of perspective. The reason I care about being 'PC', and I care about others being 'PC', is that I have done some research into the way oppressive stereotypes and actions are reflected in cultural narratives, and how these narratives actively contribute into the oppression and/or marginalization of certain groups of people. There is a reason that we, as a culture, use the word 'lame' to mean something that is bad. There is a reason we, as a culture, use 'retarded' in the same way, and 'gay', and 'pussy', and 'bitch'. There's a reason that we, as a culture, think 'rape' is an appropriate euphemism for what happens to us when we're playing Halo, or when we do our income taxes, or when we see our phone bills. There is a reason 'throw like a girl' exists in our cultural vocabulary, as well as 'ghetto-rigged' which is a linguistic descendant of 'n*gger-rigged', in case you were wondering. When people insist on their right to say the words, they are completely ignoring the reasons and the history behind the words. When I refuse to use the words, I am acknowledging the reasons and the history behind the words.

I am acknowledging that the reason we have those words is that we behave reprehensibly toward certain people. Those words are part of an arsenal used to devalue them, slap them down, show everyone else that you hate them as much as the majority hates them. That's what I mean when I say those words belong and contribute to a 'cultural narrative'. Our 'cultural narrative' says that girls are weak and athletically useless, that they can be valued only for their ability to provide sex. Our 'cultural narrative' says that people who are disabled take the fun out of everything, and people who have learning disabilities are drains on society. Our cultural narrative says that 'crazy' as shorthand for 'reprehensible' (i.e. The Republican Party) works because we believe people who are mentally ill are dangerous, scary, and predatory, even though the facts show they are the victims of violence (at the hands of neurotypical people) far more often than they are the perpetrators. Our culture says these things are demeaning, these things are bad, these things are not to be aspired to. And the words we use reflect that narrative. They are intrinsically part of that narrative. And no matter how pretty and rhetorically twisted your explanations are, the answer is: NO, they can not be divorced from that narrative.

Sorry to burst your bubbles.

It is not okay because you have gay/female/black/disabled friends. It is not okay because you mean it 'ironically'. Most of all, it is not okay because 'they use it'... marginalized people have a right (I'm speaking here of social rights, not legal rights) to reclaim the slurs and words used against them, but only they have that right. I don't get to say the n-word ironically, no matter how much my black friends say it. That word is not for me, because when it comes from me, it carries a history of oppression and mistreatment. It's wrong for me to say it. I can call myself 'queer' if I want to. I can wave a flag with that words on it, because that words has been used as a weapon against me, and if I want to reclaim it, it's mine to reclaim. But it's not yours. It's not everybody else's.

You may have other words you want to reclaim. If Carlos Mencia (whom I strongly dislike, by the way) wants to call himself a wetback, he can do that. You both have the legal freedom to use the word, but only when HE uses it is it transgressive. Only when he uses it is it reclamatory. And before you ask, yes, there are massive disagreements in our communities over the value and purpose of reclaiming words. For example, I'm content to call myself 'queer' and 'genderqueer', but Sparky, whose blog I read with great respect, hates the word and will not identify with it. Out of respect for him, I don't use it when I comment on his blog, and I try not to use it in spaces we share. Why? Because I like Sparky, and I try not to be a fucking asshole. The fact that we disagree about it does not mean anyone who is not QUILTBAG gets to enter the discussion. It's not their word, their opinion on it matters less than not-at-all. And just because your black/female/gay/disabled friends don't mind if you use the word (or claim they don't), that doesn't mean the rest of us don't mind if you use it.

One of the attitudes that frustrates me the most is the attitude that privileged people suffer more over being asked to not use certain words than marginalized people have suffered because of those words. I think being upset about 'political correctness run amok' is inherently a privileged point of view. I hear a lot of "You're contributing to a victim mindset!" and "you're enabling these people to think of themselves as victims instead of toughening up!" These phrases ignore the fact that most of these people have actually been victims. I have heard a woman who was violently raped scoff at someone else for protesting the telling of rape jokes on a blog. "Sure, it happened, but I'm not going to act like some victim." This, too, is the result of a cultural narrative. Most people don't want to be the victim. They don't want people to see them that way. They don't want to seem weak, cowardly, impotent, or broken. People treat you with disdain when you seem like that, just the same way they treat 'political correctness' with disdain. I prefer to treat people with compassion, frankly. I prefer to support the weak rather than disdain them. And I do not believe there is a 'right' or 'proper' way for a victim to respond to being victimized. I think those who believe all victims should act a certain way are arrogant assholes, and I try not to be an asshole. Putting pressure on victims to just 'toughen up' or 'get over it' is asshole behavior. It says, "I don't care that you were hurt, just don't bother me with it," and that's what I hear whenever someone complains about political correctness. "I don't care that these people have been hurt, don't expect me to change how *I* talk just because of their struggles." Asshole behavior.

There's some laziness there too. Because it's hard to change your speech patterns, it really is. I still occasionally find myself using 'retarded' as the most viciously derogatory word I can think of for some act of stupidity. It doesn't come out of my mouth anymore, but it leaps into my brain. I'm still struggling with 'ghetto-rigged' and 'cunt'. If I care about this, I have to pay attention and be mindful of what's coming out of my mouth. And that isn't easy, but when I feel frustrated with myself, like all this might not be worth it, I try to remind myself that this isn't about fulfilling some arbitrary standard of linguistic perfection - this is about not being an asshole. This is about showing compassion to others. This is about seeing the cultural constructions and frameworks that exist to hurt others and deliberately turning my back on them. This is about rejecting those narratives that have been programmed into me, because I am a free-willed human being, and I don't have to buy into that bullshit. I don't have to buy into racism, sexism, ableism, cissexism, heterosexism, or even vanilla-ism. (wink) I am a powerful person, a will-worker, and if I want to take those constructions apart one screw at a time, I can do it. I will be working on it forever, but I think it's work that's worth doing.

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sonneillonv

August 2012

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