Recently, I saw a meme with a quote I’ve seen attributed to several people. This particular one was tagged with Neil Gaiman’s name. No idea if he actually said the words or not.
The meme suggested that “political correctness” was just another name for “treating all people with respect.” I would have to disagree with that. While the PC movement might have started as a brilliant idea to treat all people with more respect, these days, it usually doesn’t have that result.
Some personal examples:
Someone who loudly butted into a conversation I was having, insisted I couldn’t call myself “handicapped” because that was mean. I had to call myself by the more “respectful” term “handicapable.” Really? *gag* This same person shoved her way past me one morning because I was too slow juggling cane, ID badge, lunch bag, and door. Did she offer to help me with the door? Nope. Offer to carry something? Nope. She blew past me and just about knocked me on my can. I guess I wasn’t “handicapable” enough for her.
A university that prided itself on diversity required aspiring teachers to take a class that included serious time on the whole idea of PC “people first” language. The instructor of that class corrected students who messed up until we all got it right. The year after I took that class, I had a fight on my hands. The university blocked my efforts to go into student teaching because my hands shake. They wanted “a letter from a neurologist” stating I would never have a seizure when in charge of a class. My neurologist laughed and said, “I can’t say that about neurologically normal people.” Sorting out that mess so I could finish my student teaching and graduate took a good chunk of a semester. Oh, yeah, they called me a “person who has seizures,” but they treated me like I had some fatal disease that would infect my students. So much for diversity and putting people first.
Some other examples:
An Indian gentleman visited a class I was teaching. He brought along a slide show to clear up some misconceptions about what living on a reservation was like. One slide showed a baseball game with teams in uniforms. The back of the jersey for one team said “Indians” and had a logo. He included that one to prove that the term “Indian” was not an insult. In fact, he said many Indians find the more PC “Native American” to be a useless and sometimes insulting title. Why? If you were born in the United States, you are a native American.
The store where I work right now serves a significant population of deaf people. Yes, I said deaf people, not “hearing impaired.” Why? I was told by one of them that the PC term “hearing impaired” is insulting. It implies that something is defective with the deaf person, and many of them don’t see themselves as defective. Different, yes, but not defective. Likewise “blind” and “visually impaired.”
When I was teaching (in Texas), there was the inevitable registration paperwork that parents had to fill out at the beginning of the year. These invariably included demographic information about ethnicity and race. One of my coworkers got an interesting one back one year. The parent had crossed out “African-American” and wrote “Black” and marked that box. When my coworker called for clarification, she was told that “We’ve never been to Africa, and I’m from Canada.” Hmmm… Sounds like “African-American” is not more inclusive or necessarily more respectful after all.
Does this mean we should forgo all attempts to call people respectful terms and treat them kindly and politely? No, of course not, but treating people with respect goes beyond making sure we use formulaic terminology.