Encouraging Respectful Language while being well, Respectful!
I try to use respectful language for various groups of people- though even better is just calling them Bob and Susan, Mr. Jones, etc. The problem is what’s considered respectful for which group varies depending on where you are, who you are, and who you are talking to! Even being able to access the knowledge of this ever changing language can depend on your education, life experience and who you happen to have met! For example, I only learned that in the United States, the term little people is preferred rather than midget for people of very short stature, because I saw a stage production of The Hobbit as a teenager. Most people, I suspect have more recently learned this from the (sur) reality TV show Little People, Big World. And I’m sure various individuals prefer different terms- dwarf, person of short stature, my name is Bob, and yes I’m short, get over it and stop staring at me!
I was raised by two college-educated parents with left-leaning politics who had degrees in English and journalism, so you can bet that I had the Presidents’ English drilled into me, including various types of non-sexist and non-racist language. And I learned even more when I went to college in a multicultural city with a large GLBT population and programs for people with both learning and physical disabilities. As I interact with others, both in person and online and encounter folks who use terms that may be considered offensive, I try to take into account their background and life experiences- of course this works far better in person!
All this stuff I am talking about is often called “political correctness” usually with an angry accusation behind it. I’ve heard umpteen different uses of this word over the years. I recommend that we all stop using this term, because when each little faction uses it differently, it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s also mostly an American thing, and our friends in other countries may be even more confused by it! Another even more fun one is “cultural Marxism”. I had to look that one up! I sometimes see people say “instead of political correctness, let’s call it respect” I don’t think that’s a solution either.
Various individuals also seem to have different ideas of at what point “all this” has “gone too far”. Often, a member of one group will take for granted that *of course* you’d better use their pet terminology, but they get mad if you call them on another type of language. Then we get into this giant contest of whose oppression is the worst (Oppression Olympics) who has read the most books or taken the most classes on Women’s/GLBT/Black/Asian etc. studies or whatever. Anyone who doesn’t have the “right” knowledge or experiences, but is curious and interested to learn more about a particular issue and wants to oppose bigotry in their communities or support their friend/relative, is driven out of these online and sometimes in-person social justice groups and what they learn is- “Wow, those people are jerks!”.
This is a lot of why I ended up leaving Heathens United Against Racism (well the Facebook group not necessarily the org), just to give one example. There are many good people in that group, don’t get me wrong, and I support the idea of it, but in practice the people who have real or virtual Ph.D’s in Anti-Racist/Every Kind of Oppression Theory and Awesome Badass Activist Experiences! live in multicultural cities, and so forth don’t know how to talk to Heathens from other backgrounds (esp. rural and working-class) who agree that yes, racism is a Bad Thing, but Holy Social Theory, Odin slow down, I’m confused! You can oppose racism without being into things like Critical Race Theory and whiteness studies, or supporting certain policies like affirmative action, slavery reparations and totally open the gates to Mexico-style immigration policy.
(Note this was written a while ago- Heathens United Against Racism has undergone some…changes but that’s in another post)