Lately, I’ve been feeling conflicted about being politically correct. It’s a pretty important topic, especially as an educator. Every day, I’m teaching kids of all ages not to use the word, “retarded,” and not to insult anyone by calling them “gay,” even jokingly. I ask kids why “throwing like a girl” is a bad thing, and cringe when I hear references to people with autism as “autistics.”
But it all just seems so nitpicky.
I mean, the world doesn’t care.
I could go to a more challenging school and be as inclusive as I want, and as a teacher that’s important. But policing the kids’ language… sometimes explaining the meaning behind the words is valuable, and other times it seems pointless. It’s just not part of their reality.
I once worked at an “inner city” school, where the students were there voluntarily because they wanted to improve their lives one way or another. Swearing was not a concern among teachers; it was unrealistic to expect them to use language how we expect in your average public school. These were students who had been to jail, who had been involved in violence at home or outside. These were kids and young adults that were hungry, and got their food daily from the school, sometimes only having one or two meals a day.
You think they care about language? You might be able to get a discussion going, but they’ll generally go back to it as soon as they leave the building.
But language is the way to convey disrespect or respect, and it indicates a lot about culture and an individual’s personal values. It’s important to me that my classroom is inclusive, especially because the students need to learn about the way that their language affects and is affected by the issues they are discussing. It’s also important to me that the people I meet feel comfortable around me. I want to be politically correct. But there comes a point when it becomes too much.
When we discuss being “politically correct,” we’re discussing the idea of politeness, of being respectful. This is definitely an important idea. However, if you try to be respectful in one way, then you feel inclined to be respectful in every way possible so as not to offend anyone.
And that’s just not possible.
There are times that I feel I might be too concerned about offensive language. But there is language that gets me upset. For example, if someone was to use the expression, “that’s so gay,” I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my sexuality. If someone used the “c” word, or started saying “that’s so girly” or “stop being such a girl,” I’d probably counter them and ask what’s wrong with being a girl. Once I wore a reverse French braid, and was told, “You look so Indian,” as if it was a bad thing.
So there are things that bother me.
But there comes a point.
Sometimes racist jokes are funny. Even sexist jokes can be done in a way where it’s not all offensive. And besides — our world isn’t safe. You can’t expect everything to be filtered so it doesn’t offend you. After all, different things upset different people.
But at the same time, that doesn’t mean the world shouldn’t be safe, and that others shouldn’t consider how what they say might affect people around them.
You can see my dilemma.
I’ve never liked the idea of being over-sensitive. I always thought people need to be prepared for the real world, and overreacting to everything is just going to set you up for a lot of unnecessary hurt. The reality is that the world I live in, surrounded by like-minded people who want to be respectful and mindful of others, isn’t the real world.
A few weeks ago, G and I went to a new friend’s place, a small party. I really didn’t know them that well, but we thought we’d go try to get to know them better. As it turned out, the people there were pretty much not at all your typical “PC” type. They used pretty derogatory language, definitely used the word “retarded” a lot, and were pretty sexist.
I suddenly felt like my world was a bubble, floating far, far away from the rest of the world.
This feeling is what prompted me to think more about this.
I think it’s important to teach respectful language especially in schools, but as a result, I feel like I’m not part of the real world anymore.
I’m not going to suddenly stop using language the way that I have, but I wonder: is being politically correct really just being over-sensitive?
What do you think about being politically correct?
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