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.