Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Monday, December 12, 2011
To start, I'd like to come clean about something. I don't generally like to make a big fuss about this, because frankly it's still kind of surreal to me and it's my sister's thing and I can take no credit and deserve no special attention for it. Still, I am immensely proud of her, and this is something I feel very strongly about and I think should be discussed because to this day it is still so polarizing and misunderstood.
So. I'd like you to introduce you to my sister, Lauren Potter. You may know her better as the character Becky Jackson of GLEE. If you haven't seen this video before, I will warn you that it contains offensive minority slurs used in a teaching manner.
Here is a direct link if the video embed isn't working.
There was a great post on The Book Lantern the other day about the use of the R-word in a popular book series, and that entry inspired me to write one of my own. This issue is very close to my heart for (what I assume are) obvious reasons. However, as illustrated by the comments on this video, the fact that almost half of this video's viewers "disliked" it, and my own experiences when speaking with people who don't want to give up the use of their precious non-PC slang, this is something I still feel needs discussion.
I'll start with something I posted on Twitter yesterday: the difference between free speech and political correctness.
Your Freedom of Speech is a right granted to you by the First Amendment of the US constitution (and does not apply if you are not a US citizen, BTW, unless your country has a similar governmental right). Freedom of Speech protects you from the government swooping in and forcibly silencing you. It protects your right to speak about whatever you choose, wherever and whenever you choose. Within reason. You cannot use Free Speech to inspire crime (inciting rioting), you cannot yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, you cannot use it to harass or incite fights, it does not cover lawless or obscene acts, etc.
Political Correctness is not overseen by the government. It is overseen by the people. It is not a law or a forced act, at least not in the sense that you are made to do it under penalty of imprisonment or forcible silence. Political Correctness is members of the public asking you not to be an asshole by using certain offensive terms. You certainly do not have to do it. But if you insist on doing it, the public then reserves their right to consider you an ignorant butthead. And no, you don't get to claim you're not a jerk for using an offensive term. You've been told it's offensive. It's on you if you decide to continue offending that group of people.
You do not get to decide what is and is not offensive to other people. I know it's hard to adjust speech habits and find new ways of expressing oneself, especially when we feel we're not doing anything wrong. But the argument that because you don't find a term offensive, it means you should get to freely use that term without reprimand? No. No dice. Sorry. The offended group gets the floor.
If you can argue intelligently and concretely why you disagree about the offensiveness of a term, that's fine, but understand that you are still arguing from a place of privilege unless you are a member of the offended group. And even if you are a member of the offended group, your language choices are still open to scrutiny. Them's the breaks.
I understand that in the case of the R-Word, people (including the offending character in the criticized book) like to make the argument that it isn't actually the offended group arguing against the use of the term, but their friends, family, and advocates. Which I disagree with, obviously *points to sister in video making her own argument*. Also, I fail to see why it isn't acceptable for advocates to make the argument on the behalf of those members of the group who cannot make it for themselves for whatever reason.
There's an element of this argument I personally have never understood, and that's the insistence that one should be "allowed" to use an offensive term if they want to, and that the offended people should just shut up and deal. It's extraordinarily childish behavior in my eyes. I understand that when someone is called out, there's often a gut reaction to defend their choices and prove that they've done nothing wrong.
But here's the thing about PC terms: someone just asked you to stop being a jerk and using a term that's personally offensive to them. Why is your response to tell THEM that THEY are being stupid (more offense, goody) and that you have the right to use whatever words you like? Why do you leap immediately to defending your use of a pejorative word rather than considering the offended public's point? Why is it so important to you to cling to a piece of your vocabulary that you could easily replace with a dozen non-offensive synonymns?
Is political correctness restricting? I guess you could argue that. I guess you could argue that everyone everywhere is offended by something and that if you stopped using every word that every single person found bothersome, you couldn't say anything at all. You can argue those things. But you know what? I don't buy it. I actively consider my language and monitor my word choices, and have since I was a pre-teen. It has not limited my ability to express myself in the slightest. I'm certainly not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes, too. And then I try to correct them.
Yes, you are allowed to use absolutely any language that you like, and no one can ever stop you from doing it. But if you make that choice, you must accept that other people are also allowed to criticize you, call you out, and consider you a jerk if you insist on using terms that bother them. That's the tradeoff. If you're okay with that, than that's the end of this discussion. If you're not okay with that, then we still have an issue.
So. Yeah. That's my piece on political correctness. I know there is a lot of discussion to be had around this topic, and I'm always happy to discuss any valid, respectful points in an equally respectful way. I'm happy to continue discussion in comments, but I reserve *my* right to ignore and delete nasty comments. And yes, I am the one who gets to decide what's nasty. It usually involves name-calling or denigrating comments about my character.
I realize I'm probably largely preaching to the choir here ;) I'd also like to clarify that in this instance, I am NOT talking about the use of slurs in fiction, other than the example I used here. I only used that example because the author herself has expressed a similar position. Here, I am talking about real people using real language in the real world.
So yes, that means bringing up Huck Finn and arguing that Mark Twain used the N-word is invalid in this particular instance. We're not talking about classic literature. We're talking about people and the language they use in real life. Discuss.