Never fear, PC Gal is here! (Fear no, annoyance yes.)

8 03 2011

It’s been a while since we’ve revisited A Series of Unfortunate Events social work school. That magical land where I learned the importance of language. No, I don’t mean not swearing at clients (though I do recommend that you try to avoid this) but of the all important politically correct terminology.

Apparently, I’d been unwittingly oppressing everyone around me. To be honest, I was open to learning.

I think being “PC” has gotten a bad rap. What’s wrong with making an effort not to offend someone? Think of all the times someone has made you feel like garbage, and then explained, “well, I didn’t mean it!” Really? I didn’t mean to stick my foot in your ass, so I guess we’re even.

In the words of Simon Amstell (whatever, I like curly haired, insecure, English comedians) “I like that political correctness exists, though, otherwise we’d all still be racists.”

While this view is a bit simplistic, it is also a bit accurate. Language evolves. Some words that used to be offensive no longer are. Some words that used to appear on government documents will now earn you a gasp and shunning in polite company. We need to pay attention to that.

But what I learned in social work school was that it wasn’t enough to be politically correct. You had to be the most politically correct. You had to win the non-racist, non-homophobic, non-transphobic, non-sexist, non-classist, non-sizist, anything else you can think of award.

If there was an actual trophy up for grabs, I might have been more interested in playing along. Instead, it just seemed that we were playing for smug satisfaction, and the right to make other people feel stupid.

One girl, a repeat offender, informed us all that we were to refer to people as being “white-skinned” rather than white. I think she explained, but I had stopped listening. Like I said, repeat offender.

This is the same girl who told our class that we should be referring to Native Americans as “first nations peoples.”

After doing a little research, it was determined that I was the only one in the room who actually knew any native people. I explained that my cousins liked the term “native” and had banners reading, “Native all the way!” decorating their MySpace pages. They had never heard of the term “first nations people.” If asked, they said they were Navajo, because that was more accurate.

What’s that, someone speaking from experience? Silence!

I was also not open-minded in my disdain for “Stop Snitching” t-shirts. Apparently, the viewpoint that this movement primarily benefitted drug dealers and brought stuggling neighborhoods further down was not welcome. I had no right to say such things because…again, I stopped listening.

Once I referred to a client as “overweight.” This caused a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

Let me remind you that I said, “overweight.” I did not say, “What a raging fatty-boombatty” or call her a “heifer.” I referenced the fact that her weight was higher than what was recommended and healthy for her height. This was a factor in her low self-esteem.

I then got a twenty minute lecture on being “fat positive,” and how saying that someone is “overweight” is offensive, because it’s too clinical.

Since learning more about that particular issue, I think there’s a lot to be said for it. But (prepare to be shocked) being told in a room full of people that I was wrong, that everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to you, I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul (sorry, I had to) did not make me want to open up and listen. It made me think that this girl was kind of a jerk.

That’s not a PC term, but I can use it because I am one too.

I appreciate what these other students were trying to do, kind of. I understand that they wanted to empower clients to accept and love themselves.

But the problem is that a lot of our clients don’t talk or think like this, and this isn’t the problem they come to us seeking help for. I think PC Gal would catch the vapors and drop dead of shock if she heard some of the things my clients say.

“Miss! Sorry to be ghetto, I’m throwing down the key!” yelled one mother out her fourth floor window. (Ghetto? Ugh, how judgmental!)

“Yeah, my mom beat us. But she’s mad Dominican.” (Painting an entire culture with such a broad stroke? For shame.)

“You can’t discriminate against my kid based on his sex, religion, political affiliation, or the fact that he’s queer as a three dollar bill!” (OK, that last one was Burt from Glee. But I think it illustrates my point nicely.)

I don’t know that telling someone that everything they say (even about themselves) is wrong and offensive is really going to help. It’s a tricky, delicate, issue, and pretending that it’s not just really doesn’t help anyone.

I just hope I figure it out by March 17th, so I can celebrate with all the other drunk micks.




16 responses

8 03 2011

LOL!!! I would join you on the 17th, but this dour Scot is too cheap.

8 03 2011

I’ll have to make due with the plethora of 1/365th Irish people that I’m sure will be wandering my neighborhood 🙂

8 03 2011

Oh bollocks! U mean I can’t say after an assessment, ‘she’s as mad as a box of frogs’!
As for 17th march, us lot from sunny northern Ireland will be using the day as an excuse to lie in bed until lunch time!

8 03 2011

“Mad as a box of frogs?” OK, that’s delightful, and I’ll be disappointed in myself if I don’t work it into conversation at least three times today.

Your plans for the 17th are also making me jealous. My best friend, who I studied abroad with in Galway, still texts me on random bank holidays, “If we’d never left Ireland, we wouldn’t have to go to work today.”

8 03 2011

we use “proper mental” all the time students sometimes have to see that practice is not the same as theory.
We once had a first year student report workers in a C+F team for humming the banjo tune from Deliverance in referance to a well known local family.
The students placment was not a joy after that.
You have too be able to relate to service usersand not talk to them in PC jargon if you want to develop a working relationship

8 03 2011

I heard recently that referring to someone as “crazy” or “mental” is “ableist and should be avoided.” I think we need to accept the fact that words change over time–we don’t use crazy in a clinical way anymore, it means something different. If someone jokingly called someone else “developmentally disabled,” that I might take issue with.

Deliverance kind of ruined banjos for me. Although various hipster music is forcing me to reconsider.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

8 03 2011

As a student social worker I was told off for using the term ‘gypsy’ in a group work session about ‘traveling peoples’. What I was doing was using the language of the 12 year old boy I was talking with and recognising the distinction between these groups. Would have helped if the group leader (who was doing an observation of practice) was listening to me. Still when I was pulled up for this I was able to produce information to quantify my choice of word in that part of the group work session.

8 03 2011

Wow, that’s pretty bad. So you’re starting where the client is, and getting told off for that? It would probably have really put that kid off if you interrupted him and told him about what words he should be using. A lot of the time I feel like that’s not about respect, it’s about making the worker more comfortable, which shouldn’t be our goal. I think we all need to remember that there’s a difference between using a term (especially for a group that you belong to) that might not be the generally accepted one, and lacking respect.

9 03 2011

Know what I really love? When I really love is when I as the only or one of the few “people of color” in the training get to be educated on how ignorant of race I actually am by a person of the majority race…it’s so much fun. It does however become actual fun when I start countering their use of words like “African-American” in reference to me with words like “black” or better yet “black-ish” and watching the steam pour from their ears…enough entertainment to keep me smiling all day…

9 03 2011

Ha, I like it! I’m glad you can have some fun with it, because that sounds like a really frustrating situation to be in. The idea that we should respect other people’s self-identification (read: let them call themselves whatever they want) really shouldn’t be radical, but it seems like it is.

One of the biggest blowups I’ve ever seen in this office happened when a white social worker told our supervisor that the supervisor was not, in fact, African American, because her family was from South America. I’ve never seen my supervisor so pissed. I was kind of in heaven. The same girl told me that I should call myself caucasian, instead of white. Really?

10 03 2011

I vacillate between self-identification as blackish and I-give-up-race-is-a-social-construct-anyway-so-i’ll-be-whatever-you-assume-I-am-but-only-if-it-amuses-me-because-it’s-so-far-from-the-truth which usually results in me being Venezuelan, Samoan, Puerto Rican, or Iranian although there have been many other options over time.

And ummm did she try to back up the not African American claim because…wow I’d like to meet that social worker…in a dark alley…(i kid…)

10 03 2011

I like when people tell me, “Well, I’m one-fifth Scottish, half French, a third Welsh…” I feel like we’re all so mixed up no one could possibly know. Especially the “100% Irish crowd.” Between the Spanish, the English, Vikings, and whoever else that went through there, there’s just no way that’s true.

She did try to back up that claim. Her point was essentially that because the family was from South American, my supervisor should identify as South American. Things were quickly moved to another room, and what transpired has not been discussed. (Which sucks, because I bet it was awesome.)

10 03 2011

It probably was awesome, and also mind boggling. It is akin to when ppl attempt to ask the “what are you?” question in a polite manner and ask about nationality to which isn’t at all what they actually want to know as my nationality is American and they want to know my race. But that ladiy’s “logic” we’d have to identify as North American…oh to have been a fly on the wall in that room…

12 03 2011

I never ran into this problem until I was trying to get my M.S.W. I understand the concept that they were trying to explain, but I also think that it is taken to the extreme. I believe if we talk to clients using all the P.C. in the world, our clients will laugh at us behind our backs and think we are jokes. When trying to make a client feel comfortable, I usually copy the words that they use to describe who they are and if I am unsure or uncomfortable choosing the right words, I ask them questions to educate me. We should not be scared to show that we don’t know everything. I believe it makes us more likable even, if we demonstrate that we need our clients to teach us how they should be treated.
I also think that if we walk around being P.C. all the time, we lose what humor we have that might keep us sane in the world of social work. Everyone needs to lighten up.

15 03 2011

Ohhhh, PCness is so my favourite topic! I actually failed my first oral defense of my case study (sort of like a public hanging) because one of the direct quotes I used did not use the language that would be appreciated by my external reviewer (from Community Rehabilitation). She stated that I had used “that language” throughout my paper. Spent the rest of the time trying to figure out what the h*ll she was talking about. Finally after the humiliation and in a shower of tears, my supervisor let me know that it was just this one quote. Which was not well worded but it was a direct quote! Turns out there was a little soap box for this lady about how easily social workers got their Masters!!!!!!

And here at the Children’s Hospital, the correct term for “mad as of box of frogs” is “whack job”. Don’t you just love it when we get all technical 🙂

16 03 2011

Would this person have been down with you rewording a quote? Because that sounds ten times sketchier! And defending a case study sounds like a nightmare, I didn’t actually have to do that. Glad you made it through 🙂

There was just a social worker Twitter discussion on what should next be included in the DSM V- crazy pants, batshit crazy, or (my contribution) cuckoo bananas.

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