Thursday, July 10, 2008

I am a fan of what being PC really means

A couple of years back, I took a class on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The students in the class were majority non-white and, nonthreatening Other that I seemed to be, the EuroAmerican students would invariably nervously confess to me about their fear of "accidentally saying the N-word" in class. 

(I swear to Gawd I don't know how you "accidentally" say any racial slur. But anyway ... )

One woman, a very, very sweet white woman of the "can't we all just get along" variety, anxiously admitted to me that she was just trying so hard to be PC that she knew she was going to slip up and say the N-word. She was so nervous about it that she was a jittery, anxious mess the whole time. 

Again, I just don't understand this. Outside of this class, she seemed to me to be a very good person who cares about other people. So why should she have to worry about 'being PC'? If we're trying to 'be PC' then that means we're more worried about ourselves and how we look, instead of hurting the people we're talking about, right? Wouldn't using the 'right'  -- that is, nonhateful/hurtful -- words come naturally if we're concerned about the people and not about guarding the way we want to think?

You'd think. And yet ... 

Someone recently told me that he overheard someone in his office loudly defending the use of the word "slant-eyes" to describe Asian people. After all, that's the way he always referred to him, and no one could make him say anything differently.

I wondered if that guy would have said that if I had been in that office. But then -- again, racial spy that I am -- he'd have to have figured out that I was actually one of them slant-eyes, and I'm not sure that he's that observant. But of course, Southern politeness probably would have prevented him from doing so (and that's another thing -- I was always taught that manners must come from within, that they teach you how to show respect for other people, not a fa├žade we put on to make ourselves look better or save ourselves from awkward situations. And yet, maybe my mom and grandma was all old school about that). A good rule of PCness is: If you wouldn't say that if the person that word/phrase refers to is standing right next to you, then it's not PC. But then, that rule still just goes after the tongue and not the mind. And you know what ol'Yeshua of Nazareth said, it ain't what goes in, but what comes out. It ain't what's in the stomach, it's what's in the heart.

I just don't know how "principles" that are obviously hurtful can ever be held above flesh and blood people. If what we say -- and especially what we think -- hurts another person, why would we want to keep saying/thinking like that? What does it say about the way we really feel about people, how we regard and respect them? While I loved Barack Obama's race speech and that it attempted to get us to talk about race, I really feel like what it did was make most of us really aware of how painful the subject is and what treacherous territory it is to navigate (as demonstrated perfectly by John Steward and Larry Wilmore on The Daily Show!).  

All 'PC' language comes with a human face. That's all I know. 

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