Friday, August 06, 2010

A few words about language.

This post is not a call out this is a reminder.

Recently in a few places around the net I have watched people react badly to being taken to task for the language they have chosen to use. I'll do another one about foul and profane language another time. For this, I'm thinking more about terms that can be construed as discriminatory on basis of things like race, sexual orientation etc.

Let's consider this a supplement to my posts about privilege and talk about how to deal when someone asks you (nicely or not so much so) to be mindful of your language.

Now let's use this pretend internet conversation as our example.

Person A: Blablabla, lame, blablabla gay, blablabla, (insert potentially insulting language here).

Person B: Using X words is really not awesome. It would be awesome if you'd think about not using them that way.

Now lately reactions I have seen include:

Person A: You can't make me be politically correct!!!


Person A: Well I didn't mean X word that way so chill out.


Person A: I'm sorry you're offended but I can say what I want.


Then person B.

Person B: You're a dick.

Person B: You know, using X language is offensive/hurtful because X and you might want to think about that.


Now I'm going to use myself as an example here (as in an actual conversation I've had on the internets), then we go for an entirely different metaphor.

Let's say you and I are having a conversation and you say:

"The lynchings just keep coming at work."

I don't like that. Someone using the word lynchings to mean having a bad day or week at work makes me think of people I very well be related to being chased down by angry mobs and hung from trees. Maybe I explain this.

In my world, a decent thing to do if you care (or at least pretend to care) would be to say, "holy shit I'm sorry that's not what I meant at all." Or "I'm so sorry."

I would get the impression that you don't give a shit about hurting me if you justify your use of the word as reclamation, as being ignorant of what lynching might mean to a Black person, or that you grew up with controlling or abusive parents so you'll say what you want. If those are your reactions I'm not going to be real interested in talking to you anymore because clearly you either aren't listening to me or just don't care.


Let's talk for a second about this boogyman term political correctness.

Now, in theory I think it's a fantastic idea to want to reduce harm in language, policies and everything. However I do think that at times the concept is used in a way that is limiting.

That's a whole other post though.

Most of the time when people object to being PC I get the impression that they are really not upset about their perceived freedoms being impinged on but that they are embarrassed and subsequently react to that embarrassment with anger.

Often when asked to not say fag or use terms that are insulting, people assume that the person(s) asking them are calling them stupid or implying that they are a douchebag which they may not be.

Or in other cases people intend to be hurtful but don't want to be honest about it and disguise their intent by saying fuck you I can say what I want.

In America yes, we have freedom of speech but we do not have institutional protections against having your ass handed to you (literally or figuratively) if yo say something that pisses someone off. With freedom of speech comes a responsibility to own up to what you're saying and unfortunately we have a big ole lack of that.

Let's take the "but that's not what I meant" argument.

Let's turn it physical since a large majority of people wouldn't purposefully physically hurt someone or would be mortified if they accidentally hurt someone.

You and I are on the same bus together, the bus is really crowded. Let's say there's a hard stop and you stomp on my foot and break my pinky toe.

Would it be appropriate if I said HEY you broke my fuckin' pinky toe, for you to apologize?

Would my toe be any less broken if you said you didn't do it on purpose? Do you think it would be appropriate to say "well I didn't mean it so..." and then go on about your business? If other people said "hey you broke her fuckin' pinky toe you should apologize." Would it be appropriate to start railing about the big bad gang trying to control you?

I would venture to say that most people would say, "Holy SHIT I'm so sorry." As in yes apologize and maybe move over to the left or hold onto the railing so they didn't break anyone's toes.

Now a lot of us if we push someone or step on them will say excuse me. We won't stand there and prevaricate about how it's not our fault, about being controlled, about how we didn't mean it so it doesn't count.

Why is it so difficult to extend that to language?

Honestly if you have something in your life that makes you need to do whatever you want that's your business but please don't expect me to put up with something I find abusive.

You can't punch everyone you see in the face because someone punched you in the face.

Rather you can make that decision but there will be consequences and if you're going to spend your time justifying, than don't expect people to just say "oh okay it's all right go right ahead and keep doing that."

Personally I don't expect everyone I interact with on the internet to be aware of all of the nuances of language. I don't expect that everyone will know why X thing is potentially or actually offensive.

I do hope that the people I interact with are willing to (as I am SO fond of saying) shut up and listen when it's needed. I do hope that if seventeen out of twenty people are saying, "HEY that's not okay" that someone will take a second to think about it.

For me, I've started paying attention when this kind of fail comes up and how people deal with it. Frankly I do not have the emotional gas in my tank to deal with people who don't seem to care. I just don't.

Furthermore, there are people who's publications I won't read, who's blogs I've unsubscribed to, who's books I will never purchase.

If you have an aim to be heard, take what I've said here not as an admonishment because it's not. It is an explanation.

Now if you have questions feel free to ask. This my friends is an act of love. I know when you get called out about these things that it hurts and it's embarrassing but it's not the end of the world and likely the person calling you out isn't hating on you but demonstrating that they give a shit. You give a shit too okay?

Homo Out.

1 comment:

beatfreak said...

What gets me is when you correct someone on what they are saying, they seem to be more concerned with how people think of them -- whether they are considered nice-- than the fact they may have hurt someone.

If you want me to think you are good and nice, don't hurt me. If you want me to think you are a good person, when I say "ouch," take me seriously.

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