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.

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