“We must not allow other people's limited perceptions to define us.” — Virginia Satir
Lately, I believe political correctness has gone a bit too far. With the advent of the internet, (a confusing place where literally anyone’s voice can be heard), it’s no longer acceptable to acknowledge differences. Political correctness has taken all the juice out of ethnic jokes and given power to all those people who feel as though they have a grievance, whether they’re justified or not.
And who determines what’s politically correct, anyway? Throughout history, it’s been the winners of wars, the ones with the furthest “reach,” the loudest voice, the most power, or the ones with the highest status.
They tell us:
“Oh, you can’t use certain words to describe those with different skin colours. They're offensive!” And yet, for years, all it meant was someone whose skin was darker than light pink. (Incidentally, why do pink people spend their summers outdoors trying to acquire a nice tan, even going so far as to spray it on artificially? People are weird.)
“Oh, you can’t appropriate cultural icons.They’re mine, not yours.” And yet, it’s okay to appropriate goods, habits and technologies that didn’t originate with that person’s culture. Because it’s convenient.
“Oh, you can’t open a door for a woman. She might think you’re being condescending.” And yet, originally, it was a way to show respect and consideration.
“Oh, you can’t use the colour spectrum anymore. It’s reserved for the LGBTQ community.” (And speaking of appropriation, as a recovering artist, I find that last one particularly annoying.)
In fact, I call bullshit! On all of it.
The PC Police would like us all to be the same, even though it’s our differences that make us interesting. Life isn’t black and white. It’s exactly like that colour spectrum, not just for one community, but for all of us. No two people are precisely alike. Even identical twins differ from each other in so many ways.
No, I believe that the PC Police are hypocrites, incapable of thinking outside the box, incapable of dealing with anything that can’t be labelled, quantified and shoved into those same boxes. They don’t know how to expand their outlook to include the views of other cultures, other ways of thinking, and other values.
But the problem isn’t their rigid adherence to the constrictions of their own circumscribed little world, though. The problem arises when they try to impose those constrictions on others.
It’s the story of human history, isn’t it?
Personally, I believe it’s a biological imperative. It’s exactly the same mechanism as a pack of dogs sniffing each other’s butts to determine where each one fits in the pack hierarchy.
We all use different methods of establishing status. Our interactions are all, always, a way of determining where we stand with others — how much money we have, our appearance, our sexual relationships, our physical strength, even our sense of humour.
It even shows up in our cultural identity and what we find funny — as Canadians living next door to arguably the most powerful country in the world, our sense of humour is self-deprecating.
We laugh at ourselves before others can point the finger and ridicule us for our failings. American humour tends to be more power-based, often requiring a victim — think Funniest Home Videos or the Three Stooges, whereas British humour is predicated on one-upmanship using wit and education to establish a superior status.
When political correctness allows for people of all types to express their beliefs and opinions, it’s a good thing, but when someone decides it’s evil to be politically incorrect and then tries to impose that belief on those around them, their very intransigence becomes the “evil” they wish to supplant.
Get real, people. We are all different in so many ways, it only makes sense for us to be more open-minded. It’s fear of the unfamiliar that makes people into control freaks, the PC Police.
Just because we have the right to be different does not give us the right to impose our own beliefs and values on others. They also have a right to be different.
Okay, so there are many people who take advantage of others because of the differences between them, but honestly, you can’t blame someone for the colour of their skin, their sexual preferences or their age. They didn’t choose it. Because I’m old, cis-gender and pink, (i.e. white), it doesn’t automatically mean I hate and persecute all Blacks, Asians, Indigenous, young people, gender-diverse, or even purple-people-eaters, so please don’t automatically assume I do.
Let’s try stepping out of our comfort zone. Let’s try being generically non-judgmental. Let’s evaluate people on their individuality, not their customs, their skin colour, their mode of dress, culture, or language. Let’s all be human for once and look for the ways we are the same.
And if, at the end of it all, we wind up despising someone, let it be for their acts, not for circumstances they didn’t choose and can’t control.
Let it be for the things they do, not for the things they are.
Bev Hanna is a writer and published author. A recovering artist, she now teaches senior writers how to craft compelling stories and memoirs, and manages the Let’s Write group at the Askennonia Senior Centre.