Political Correctness or What do we want to say in a civilized society?

Gary Oldman, for reasons unknown, has been complaining about the “pc” police coming down on Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin for saying things you wouldn’t say in front of your grandchildren. Here’s his non-apology. As my colleague who posted to FB warned, don’t read the comments because the ranting about political correctness will turn your stomach.

Sigh, I wish the term political correct didn’t carry the connotation of policing speech or being sensitive to offense. Forming our public discourse so that it’s inclusive, not bigoted, racist, or sexist isn’t about correctness or sensitivity. It’s about putting into language the principles we want civil society to be governed by. When I was a kid–I don’t remember this–my grandmother, who grew up in the thirties and forties in the South, apparently used some racially derogatory language in front of me when I was at the parroting stage. So I went into a store with her and my mother and repeated it without knowing what I was saying. My mother, horrified, rushed me out the door. As a white girl, I’m use to people thinking it’s okay to saying racially derogatory things without thinking I’ll comment. I usually do because my mother decided that day that I wouldn’t be taught that derogatory discourse was okay. When my students and some friends used the phrase “that’s so gay” for awhile to refer to something being dumb, I immediately bristled and would explain that conflating dumb and “gay” was not okay.

Casual racism, sexism, and general disrespect for others happens because we don’t think about the language we use or think that the language we use matters. It’s not being overly sensitive to expect our public discourse to be intolerant of such language, and it’s completely acceptable to hold public figures to a higher standard for how they use language, even when drunk and angry. The fact that Gibson turned to such terms when drunk and belligerent means that he already used those terms freely to express rancor.  Our public discourse reflects our private one, and the more we can encourage language in both spaces that respects the multitudinous of people, the better for everyone. Language is powerful, and it’s one of the places where changing how we say things can actually combat racism, sexism, and bigotry.



The World Cup 2014 begins in Brazil on Thursday, and you may be confused in thinking this is a political event given the amount of copy being devoted to things other than the players. A little context: Brazil has been madly building new stadiums and transportation systems ahead of the World Cup. Infrastructure building, and hopefully, outside funding for it, is one of the advantages of hosting the games, especially for a nation like Brazil, which is poised to be a first world nation, but isn’t quite yet. Unfortunately, public funds have paid for most of the construction, its been at a break neck pace, 9 construction workers have died on various projects, the latest just this past week working on the unfinished monorail, and people are justifiable more than a little upset about the expense and the rest of the unfinished mess when the nation faces other, more pressing issues, including unemployment. People protested the Confederations Cup games last summer, and they have an official protest mascot for these games. Dave Zirin in the Sunday New York Times lays most of the blame on the corruption of FIFA, especially it’s head Sepp Blatter. For those of you who missed this one, Blatter famously awarded the 2022 games bid to Qatar, despite the fact that playing a summer outdoor football tournament in Qatar is insane given the heat. Blatter then suggested moving the games to the spring, smack dab in the middle of the European leagues seasons. That went over like a ton of bricks. Admittedly, Zirin and the US, have skin in this game since we also made a bid for the 2022 games. But, there’s also strong evidence that someone got bribed in that process, so there may be a revote. At any rate, the messy back story to the games may be why there’s been less hype here than in previous ones. It could also be the fact that the USMNT drew the group of death. Only if  a miracle occurs, will we make it out of the group stage with Ghana, Portugal, and freaking Germany in our group.