I have a friend, Carlita.
(Okay, I don’t have a friend named Carlita.
But really you should have known that statement was a lie as soon as you read “I have a friend”)
BUT let’s say I have a friend Carlita, and let’s say that one day in grade school, Carlita is nommin on some fries and ketchup, when suddenly, she misses her mouth. She’s sitting there, fry smushed onto her face with a splat of ketchup on just the right of her nose, horrified. Keeping calm and trying to work swiftly and discreetly, she puts down the fry and grabs for her napkin to wipe it away when she hears –
It’s too late. The children are unmerciful, and there is nothing she can do to change her fate. Everyone laughs and points and starts calling her “Ketchup”. Soon her teacher picks up on it too, then the other teachers, then the principle. The nickname sticks with her through high school, rearing its ugly head at the slightest of mistakes.
“HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY MISS THAT GOAL, KETCHUP??”
She writes her college essays on the struggles of becoming Ketchup, which makes for a great personal statement, but she is still somehow rejected from most schools, being waitlisted at her safety school. Can you blame them? Who wants to admit a Ketchup into their school??
The only thing she asks of you, her new roommate is that you please please PLEASE call it “catsup” when you feel the need to discuss any tomato-based condiments that may find their way onto burgers and hotdogs.
Do you respond with: “Don’t be so sensitive?”
The fact of the matter is, that for each of us, every word has different connotations and underlying meanings. All our lives, we learn to associate each word with a unique network of feelings, memories, and lexicons based on our previous experiences, made possible through the magic of neuroplasticity (NEUROLINGUISTS COME AT ME.)
AND YET everywhere you hear people scoff at the very idea of being “PC”. Cartoons about how silly it is are everywhere (I have included one below because I know you are too incredibly lazy to do a quick google search). Even in academia, some people have gone so far as to call it cultural Marxism (melodramatic much?).
BUT now that I know you understand the plight of those who are more sensitive to certain words (since you have been exposed to a moving, epic tale about a girl and her difficulties with all 57 varieties of Heinz condiments) we’re gonna skip right onto what up-and-coming non-ass can do to be a little bit more PC
1. Yup. Censor yourself.
Okay that sounds a little strong. But it’s important to know that you don’t have to express your beautiful, unique self in your beautiful unique way all the time. I know, it feels kind of weird not to say “OHMG THAT 134.5 FOOT WATER SLIDE WAS INSAAAAAAAAANE“, but someone nearby might not appreciate that phrasing, and it’s probably more important not to piss them off than to feel natural while expressing your enthusiasm for a slide that isn’t even the biggest in the world anymore.
2. Know what you’re saying?
“But isn’t a fag just a bundle of sticks or a ciga” –
If someone has told you that something is hurtful to them, or you’ve heard that a word can be hurtful to people, maybe you should spend some time looking into the history of whatever term or phrase is at stake and find out why it is offensive to begin with. The internet is pretty informative!
Good news: all it takes is a google search to learn the history behind why people want to rename the Washington Redskins
Bad news: I will not do this google search for you as I did with the cartoon oh wait look up there i already did whoops.
3. Know who you’re around
My good friend Leo (full name: Leonardo de CapriSun) is super cool and super trans*. You can tell he’s cool because he drew the picture of Carlita up there, and that is cool (I also hear he might have drawn a few other things before, i dunno, http://www.rorymidhani.com/)
That being said, there’s a certain term that lot of transfolk find offensive but he(and I) thinks it sounds…endearing?? Leo’s kinda weird.
Anyway, that means that on certain occasions, we have used the term privately in conversation with one another and both felt comfortable and safe.
Will either of us ever take the liberty of slingin it around other people who might be uncomfortable with it? No.
Does the fact that he’s trans* and I’m cis factor into this at all? No.
Will you do your best to know what the people around find hurtful and tailor your actions and speech to that? Yes, yes you will.
With allllll that in mind, I admit this: yes, sometimes people are silly and yes, sometimes “PC” is taken “too far”.
I present as an example an anecdote from my friend Jojo, who was working with his school’s LGBT group on how to give back to the community when one girl piped up:
“I think it’s offensive to call it ‘community service’ because, well…it’s not like we’re servants.”
(when I heard this the first time, i snorted and a little food came out of my mouth groosssssss)
First of all, I don’t appreciate the implication that she does not want to be associated with a blue collar working-class status, but that is another story.
I think that even in this misguided attempt at thinking critically about our language and actions, there is a place for discourse and understanding. “Could you please elaborate on your concerns?” “What aspect of ‘community service’ do you feel is problematic’ blah blah blah.
But certainly, the wrong thing to do in this situation is to dismiss her concerns outright. It is, after all, supposed to be a safe space.
I don’t really have an ending for this semi-organized stream of wordvomit, so I guess I’ll try and wrap up on a classy note: