February 15, 2007

Echoes: Political Correctness

Tonight is something special, Super Editor Marie is stepping out of her Editor role to really speak candidly about P.C. and since there were no other submissions, I'm letting her have Echoes to raise her voice. I did throw in my comments and pretty much I'd say we're on the same page.

So here she is...MARIE...UNCENSORED

Comment Submitted by Marie:

Some things are simply obvious facts. I'm white, I'm female, I'm a young adult. You may be tall, short, fat, thin, black, brown, white, purple, one-legged, or multi-tentacled. The instant you see someone you automatically note certain factors about their appearance.

If you disagree with that you are either blind or in serious denial. So I'll assume we all accept that first sentence as true.

People seem to think that drawing attention to physical characteristics (e.g. using labels) is rude and hurtful. You've seen what I look like. Under our current racial definitions, I'm white. I know it and you know it. You calling me white is a mere statement of fact; I'm not going to get all pissy over it. Unless you say the word in a derisive or accusatory tone and/or surround "white" with other words like "bitch" or "slut" or "worthless". Then I'll get angry and punch your stupid face.

B.R.: She'll do it and it hurts.

Let's say I have a friend who only has four fingers total. I know he has a physical defect; he knows he has a physical defect. If he suggests that we go bowling, I may comment curiously, "Cool, you can bowl?" Should he take offense? No. But if I say something snarky like, "Dude, I didn't know they made bowling balls for guys with claws," then I deserve a slap across the mouth.

B.R.: Makes me wanna slap you right now...

The most often used example of political correctness is the debate over what white people should call black people. There have been many changes in preference over the decades: negro, colored, black, African-American, people of color, etc. I have a suspicion that black people won't decide on a term because they enjoy making PC-conscious whites nervous. Comedienne Judy Gold joked that a white woman was so afraid to offend a black bartender that she ordered an "African-American Russian."

Now, I can see how a fun little power trip like that may be a perk to someone whose ancestors were oppressed. But the mere fact that people are agonizing over what to call other groups of people only draws more attention to our differences. Varieties of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. all need to be de-emphasized. We say that we hate them, that we want to be equal to everyone else, but we cling to our labels. We make sure that our labels remain in the front of everyone's mind- socializing our kids by pointing out "Jerry looks different because he is black, honey" rather than explaining "Jerry has black
hair, I have brown hair, and you have yellow hair. Everyone is different and special." As we grow up we forget that there are reasons that make us appear different; after all, it's much easier to just say "he's black," and move on to the next topic.

Why can't we move past having labels? People seem to like double standards. Our respective labels give us respective benefits and disadvantages. Someone will say "I want to be considered equal to everyone else" then turn around and ask for special treatment- Affirmative Action, extended test-taking time, handicapped parking permits, etc. But can you really blame them? If you can catch a break, why not take it? Opportunity's knocking.

Hell, I've done it. At boarding school, if I was running late and couldn't finish my morning chores, I'd approach a male staff member and beg to be allowed back into my dorm because of "girl problems." I'd make sure the sink was clean and my bed was made, and avoid consequences for rolling out of bed ten minutes late. (Women can get away with a lot by confessing "girl problems." Men just cut you off with an "I don't want to hear about it" expression and wave you ahead.)

Is it honest for someone to profess "Hey, I'm just a regular person" then demand special compensation? Probably not, but are we going to act with integrity and pass up a free ride? I don't think so. We won't give up our labels and sob-stories of how society owes us for mistreating our ancestors. Once the benefits for being a minority cease being meted out by the government and other institutions, we'll have to accept that we are all people. (With the possible exceptions of sexual differences and physical and mental disabilities.)

I think that many people, consciously or not, like their labels. It's an easy way to define yourself. Racial identity may be the easiest. You automatically know that you have something (no matter how superficial) in common with people who look like you. ("You're blond! So am I! Like, wow!") Several of the fraternities and sororities at UCSC primarily base their membership on race or ethnicity. They often state their purpose as "creating a supportive environment for [insert type of minority here] students." Many also assert that their organization is not racist- that they welcome anyone of any ethnicity to apply. But, really, how many Latinas are aKDPhi's? How many white girls are in AKA? How many gentiles are AEPi's?

Don't get me wrong; solidarity is a good thing-- just look at the civil rights or feminist movements. But can't we all put aside our labels sometimes and just identify with each other as fellow human beings? Not white or black, Christian or Muslim, Hutu or Tutsi, even male or female. It will take generations, but the key to equality may be eliminating labels from our languages altogether.

B.R.: AMEN!!!!

Response From Brian:

You're absolutley right, there are double standards for eqaulity, I believe that you should be proud of your heritage but don't let it be all that you are. Great job Marie. I'm giving you a vacation.



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