Last night and this morning, Bill and I have enjoyed a stimulating discussion, partly inspired by an article I read in The Atlantic yesterday, and partly inspired by my being “triggered” by something that popped up in my Facebook memories. The article in The Atlantic was entitled “Even Trigger Warning Is Now Off Limits”. It was written by John McWhorter, a man who doesn’t mind that people are now being encouraged to refer to everyone as “they”, rather than referring to them by their apparent gender. McWhorter is fine with replacing gender specific words like “actress” and “waitress” with “actor” or “server” or maybe “waitron”. But he stops short at forbidding terms like “trigger warning”, “walk-in”, “insane” or “dumb”, all of which are now deemed “oppressive” by some people.
Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC) has taken the time to compose a list of “oppressive language” terms that need to be replaced by the considerate and “woke” among us. And McWhorter, who clearly thinks of himself as a thoughtful and considerate person, has taken issue with some of the words on the list. As I read his article yesterday, I let out a big groan and said, “That’s ridiculous.”
Then I started ranting to Bill about how it’s unreasonable to expect people to completely change their way of speaking– the way they’ve been speaking and writing since birth– just to appear to be more “sensitive” to supposedly oppressed people. What right do these “woke” types have to pressure people into changing their language, as if they are the authority on what is, and what is not, respectful? What about people doing the best they can to show consideration for each other?
I’m all for being respectful and kind to others, and if someone tells me they’d rather I refer to them with different pronouns or adjectives, I’m happy to try to oblige. But some of this stuff is just plain lunacy. PARC is hoping people will, for instance, stop using terms like “triggered” (because of gun violence), “rule of thumb” (because of an old British law that permitted husbands to beat their wives, as long as the implement used was narrower than one’s thumb), or “freshman” (first year student is supposedly less offensive). They don’t like the term “walk-in”, because not everyone is able to walk, nor do they like “crazy” or “insane”, because those words might offend people who have psychological problems.
PARC wants the word “slave” to go out of style. Instead, we should say “enslaved person”, because it puts the person first and recognizes that the condition of slavery was imposed on a person, and shouldn’t be used to define them. And they also claim it’s wrong to refer to “African-Americans”. Instead, we should refer to them as “Black” (with a capital B) because the term African-American can be interpreted as “othering”– as in not recognizing that a dark skinned person who has never been to Africa may not want to be grouped in such a way.
But doesn’t it also hinder communication to take the time to worry about such things to excess? Why should we assume that a person will be offended? Isn’t that kind of presumptuous, in and of itself?
Personally, I don’t like the trend of capitalizing the word “Black”, but not doing the same for the word “White”… because I think people should try to think in terms of equality as much as possible, even if equality is still a long ways off. We’ll never get there if we’re granting special conditions to certain groups… not that I expect to see true equality in my lifetime. I appreciate that the Washington Post does capitalize both “Black” and “White”. I wish The New York Times would do the same. No one can help what racial group they were born into, so no group should be granted special deference. If you’re gonna capitalize the word “Black”, you should do the same for all racial groups, as far as I’m concerned. I realize that some people may feel the need to try to “correct” my opinions about this, but I doubt my mind will change. Maybe I’m just too old and rigid. 😉
The African-American designation, in my opinion, really never should have been in style. I have always resisted it. When I was growing up, Black people were referred to as “black”. But then that became problematic, because some folks felt that the term black was offensive, since the shade black sometimes has negative connotations. For instance, if you watch old movies, the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black. So, back in the 90s, it was considered better to refer to Black people as “African-American”, even if they had never been to the continent or, in fact, weren’t American. And it also didn’t take into account that there are people from Africa who are not dark skinned. Actually, according to the intellectuals at Brandeis, it’s also wrong to generically refer to “people of color” when one is referring to specific groups. I’ll be sure to make a note of that.
The people at PARC also want you to stop saying “Long time no see” or “No can do”. Why? Because those two expressions are “broken English” that originated from making fun of non-English speakers. I think that’s interesting, but I also think it’s ridiculous for people to be seriously offended by those expressions. Not when there are people who don’t have enough to eat, adequate healthcare, or a roof over their heads. Overly politically correct people are not much fun to be around or talk to, in my experience. They’re usually too busy being focused on the language used and its style, rather than the substance of what is actually said and the overall context. That means the politically correct among us usually miss the point.
Frankly, I would love to see the end of the word “douche” used in a pejorative way. In many parts of the world, a douche is a shower… and even in the United States, a douche is really a box of cleanser used mostly by women on a certain part of their body. To me, it’s illogical to call someone a douche, so I refuse to do it. Some people hate it when someone says something “sucks”, which was originally an offensive sexual expression that really only applied to women and gay men. Of course, so many people use the words “douche” and “sucks”, that they are now kind of removed from their original meanings. The same could be said in reverse about words like “faggot”. In some parts of the world, a faggot is a sausage or a bundle of sticks. A fag is a slang term for cigarette. But a group of Americans have deemed that word “offensive” and “taboo”, so we can’t use it… or the word “retard”, for that matter, even though “retard” is a perfectly useful word when it’s not being used as an insult that refers to a person’s intelligence level or lack thereof.
I don’t have a problem with the concept of being more thoughtful and kind about one’s language. However, I do have concerns that too much emphasis on language policing can have a chilling effect on communication and the sharing of ideas. I think people should be encouraged to communicate. Yes, they should also be encouraged to be kind and sensitive about offensive language as much as possible, but it’s more important that they talk, even if what is said is uncomfortable. Effective communication leads to mutual understanding and, hopefully, ultimately some respect.
I read some of the Facebook comments about how PARC may be overdoing it in the politically correct language police arena. Quite a few people seemed to have the same impression I did, which was pretty much a big sigh and rolling of the eyes. It takes time and effort to change language. Some people will resist it, because it’s annoying to have someone– particularly if they’re young and academic– correcting language one has been using since toddlerhood. Moreover, Brandeis University is a famously liberal school in Massachusetts. The thought police residing there don’t represent all people from around the world. I’m aware that there are groups in the United States and Europe who think it’s important to stop referring to people as “he” or “she”, but I also know that there are many people who are simply focused on survival. The last thing they give a fuck about is whether or not someone is offended by gender specific pronoun use. There are also a lot of languages that have feminine and masculine words as features of the language itself. It would be a hell of a chore to change those constructs simply to make politically correct people happier.
So then, once Bill and I were done with our conversation last night, we went to bed. I woke up this morning to look at my Facebook memories. This time of year is actually kind of historically shitty for me, as July is a month in which I’ve endured a number of setbacks. In different years, July has been the month during which I lost my dad and my grandmother (the only grandparent I ever really knew personally). It’s also been a time of year when we’ve had to move, or gotten terminal diagnoses for beloved pets of ours. I probably shouldn’t look at Facebook memories in the month of July… but anyway, I did look this morning, and was immediately “triggered” (there’s that forbidden term again).
One year ago, I posted this:
“Why do people send memes via PM? Especially without comment?”
I don’t like getting PMs from people unless the PM is regarding something important. I find PMs distracting and annoying. Historically, I’ve gotten abusive or obnoxious messages from strangers via PM. If it were up to me, I’d turn off that feature or open it only to certain people.
But anyway, what happened was that a year ago, I was complaining about face masks. It wasn’t that I wasn’t following the rules. I have never not worn a face mask when one was required. I was simply complaining about them on my Facebook page. If you read last year’s blog posts, you’ll find that I bitched a LOT about masks, which apparently led some people to think I needed “re-education” on this matter. For the record, I don’t. I have a master’s degree in public health and am quite well aware of science. Science told me to STAY HOME and away from other people, which is what I did. So far, it’s successfully kept me well. I’m also fully vaccinated and, even though Germany is finally opening up, I still stay pretty socially distanced, mainly because people annoy me.
A person– supposedly a friend– passive aggressively sent me a meme about wearing face masks and how selfish “anti” maskers are. She didn’t comment on the meme. She just passed it along to me via PM, leaving me to wonder how I should take it. Was she trying to share a funny meme with me, or was it a dig? Frankly, the fact that she sent it without comment pissed me off, so I posted about it. Another “friend”, whom I promptly unfriended that day, continued the passive aggressive trend by leaving a cryptic comment and “laughing” at me. This “friend” left the impression that she and her meme forwarding pal had been talking amongst themselves about what was on my page. And instead of actually acting like friends and addressing it directly with me, felt the need to send me their passive aggressive crap via PM.
A year ago, I was pretty much fed up with everything, so I was happy to remove a lot of people from my social media. Seems odd to me that such evolved people wouldn’t have taken it upon themselves to spare me the trouble by unfriending me themselves, since they didn’t like what I had to say, and didn’t want to talk to me about it. And yes, I did rant about it. I’m childish that way.
I see in last year’s post, I ranted about how the woman I unfriended also used to give me shit because she was offended by my comments about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I suspect she assumes I’m a bigot because I don’t like the LDS church. But instead of talking to me about why I have these opinions and hearing what I have to say, she just dismisses me as a “bigot”.
I have what I think are very good reasons for my negative opinions about the church. And my feelings are about the church and its doctrines and practices, not so much the specific members within it. My opinions were also not formed in a vacuum. I didn’t just decide that I “hate” Mormons… and I don’t actually hate them, by the way. I just have a problem with the way many of them behave, particularly when someone decides it’s no longer for them and they want to leave the faith. I also realize that Mormons aren’t the only ones who do this. They just happen to be the specific group who affected me personally.
I don’t like that Ex used the LDS religion in her parental alienation campaign against Bill. While the church may not specifically encourage divorced people to engage in alienation, many of its practices do encourage it to happen. It doesn’t take a genius to see it. Non members can’t, for instance, see their faithful children get married in the temple. People have gotten custody agreements amended over whether or not a parent takes their child to church. People– including children– have even killed or been killed over this issue.
The fact that LDS teachings and practices can easily be used in parental alienation tactics is one reason why I don’t like the religion. I should be allowed to say that, especially since what I’m saying is based in reality. I’m not picketing or writing letters to get Mormonism outlawed. I still respect everyone’s rights to believe whatever they want in terms of religion. But I should have the right to say that I don’t like Mormonism without someone automatically making negative judgments about my character. Have the basic decency to actually listen to and consider what I have to say before you decide that about me– especially if you’re going to lecture me about being respectful and considerate toward others.
I also know that this particular former online “friend” has issues with Scientology, which is also considered to be a religion by some people. She was fine with criticizing Scientologists, openly claiming that their beliefs are “nuts”. But she doesn’t want to hear criticism of Mormonism because it’s more “mainstream”, and she thinks that criticizing religion is “disrespectful”, even if there are some legitimately fucked up things about said religion that people are discouraged from openly discussing, for fear of alienating or offending them. And she assumed that she was more evolved and “woke” than I am, simply because she believes she’s more open to religion than I am.
I highly doubt this woman knows nearly as much, or has as much personal experience, with the fallout of leaving Mormonism as Bill and I do. It would be one thing if I had simply decided not to like the LDS church without knowing anything at all about it. But I know a lot about Mormonism, and my feelings about it are based on things I’ve personally seen and experienced.
I’ve actually spent years studying the church, and I know many members and ex-members. My opinions weren’t formed out of ignorance. But this former online acquaintance treated me like an ignorant person and didn’t bother to hear me out. Instead, she lectured, shamed, and engaged in passive aggression. That’s not how a friend behaves. Moreover, if she had taken the time to have a serious discussion with me, rather than just assuming I’m a bigot, she might find that my opinions make some sense. Or she might not… but at least she would have granted me the consideration of trying to make my case without just dismissing me as ignorant, inconsiderate, and ill-mannered.
I’ve found that the older I get, the less time and interest I have in engaging with people who want to tell me how to think, what to say, or how I should behave. If the snarky chick from last year had enough respect for me to hear and respect the reasons why I feel the way I do about Mormonism, maybe she’d understand me better. Maybe she might have even found and been a real friend, rather than someone who lurks and stirs up shit on other people’s social media accounts, and then acts holier than thou about showing “respect” for people’s religious beliefs and COVID etiquette. I find her behavior to be hypocritical, at the very least.
The bottom line is, people should certainly try to communicate with each other. We should listen to each other and show as much respect as we can muster, whenever possible. But respect is a two way street. Being overly concerned about certain so-called “outdated language” being offensive to other people is as much of a barrier to communication as being overtly offensive is. Sure, it’s ineffective to swear at people, because they’ll just tune out your diatribe. But I think it’s also ineffective to nitpick at what people say, calling their words offensive when it’s clear that no offense was actually intended. I think it’s important to listen to what a person is actually saying before dismissing what they say as “offensive”, “bigoted”, or “ignorant.” In other words, some woke people aren’t really that woke, if you know what I mean.
As for the existence of ivory tower intellectual infested PARC, I’m sure if my hero George Carlin was still alive, he’d be having a field day with that. As one Facebook commenter wrote yesterday, “That’s absurd. Fuck those people.” Ah, what the hell… here’s George. I know I’ve shared it before, but it bears repeating.