PoCo A PoCo: Fifty Two Acts of Political Correctness

Babalon-93 has suggested that I expand my previous post, “Words Mean Stuff: thorny language”, into a Fifty Two Something series:

52 Something

Choose something you would really like to do on a weekly basis and commit to sharing it with your friends or the world on your blog. There is no limit to what you can choose, it just needs to be something you are passionate about. 52 reviews, 52 drabbles, 52 photos, 52 environmentally friendly life changes, 52 short stories, 52 haiku, 52 tours of your town. 52 of anything you would really like to do for the next year. Cut and paste this text into your blog and begin! Please tag your entries with “52 something”.

Language and its thorns has been a bit of a theme here in the past: The gendered language of snark, implications and consequences of the passive voice (with more here), and so on. So, I present:

pocoapoco.jpg

If I subtitle this series “Fifty Two Acts of Political Correctness”, do you think people will ‘get’ the reclamation?) It does lead to the short tag 52PoCo, which I find rather appealing. In music, “poco a poco” means “little by little”: making gradual changes, small steps.

Zuky has written an beautiful debunking of the pejorative, dismissive appropriation of the term “political correctness” by privileged bigots: “The Greatest Cliché: The Unexamined Propaganda of “Political Correctness””:

As it’s commonly used, “PC” is a deliberately imprecise expression (just try finding or writing a terse, precise definition) because its objective isn’t to communicate a substantive idea, but simply to sneer and snivel about the linguistic and cultural burdens of treating all people with the respect and sensitivity with which they wish to be treated. Thus, the Herculean effort required to call me “Asian American” rather than “chink” is seen as a concession to “the PC police”, an unsettling infringement on the free-wheeling conversation of, I suppose, “non-chinks”. Having to refer to black folks as “African Americans” rather than various historically-prevalent epithets surely strikes some red-blooded blue-balled white-men as a form of cultural oppression. Having to refer to “women” rather than “bitches” lays a violent buzzkill on the bar-room banter of men preoccupied with beating on their chests and off other body parts.

[…]

Simply put, the great “PC” cliché, as commonly deployed in mainstream discourse, is cultural propaganda designed to befuddle and misdirect while defending the current power structure. All politics deal with power relations, and in the debate over America’s alleged climate of “political correctness”, there’s a stark asymmetry of power between the defiant megaphone-wielders who complain of being constrained by humorless hypersensitivity from below, and the under-represented people of color, women, LGBT, handicapped, poor, and otherwise marginalized or dispossessed people who have no choice but to absorb the linguistic, cultural, and physical barbs of the ruling class. The former feel psycho-emotionally oppressed by their inability to crack puerile ethnic jokes without criticism; the latter simply are oppressed.

Some of the items on my PoCo A PoCo hit list might be words, phrases or arguments that hurt others or reinforce existing power structures; others may be acts of self-hate that need to go. Some will be changes that I’m just embarking on, others will be changes in language or usage that I’ve been working on personally for a while.

Language may not be my only inspiration; I may branch out into other areas of practice. Some will be one-liner pet peeves or one-paragraph posts, sometimes I might be inspired to write more. And I have no idea whether I’ll make the distance, the full 52, but a start is better than no effort at all.

This isn’t supposed to be prescriptive or the last word. I’m hoping to concentrate mainly (though not exclusively) on my own process throughout this. Some of these posts will be reminders to myself to stop and think before speaking, some will be little bits of obstreperation, and quite a few might be borderline or arguable cases. Feel free to engage in discussions, however I do ask that all your discussions be centred on the people on the pointy end of the power structures concerned. Antifeminist, racist, bigoted, lazy whinges will be either vigorously rebutted or deleted. I want these comments threads to be safer-spaces.

Please bear in mind that I’m not calling people out on genuine reclamation. You can read my previous thoughts on reclamation here: “Feminism Friday: Reclamation: thoughts from a fat hairy uppity angry gimp bitch”. For example, if you’re disabled and you choose to refer to yourself as a crip or a gimp, or fat and refer to yourself as fat, please don’t think that I have a problem with that! I don’t, and I engage in these usages myself.

Onward.



Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, language, social justice

Tags: , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. I think it was one of Kaz Cooke’s columns (and possibly also something from Miss Manners) that made the point that “politically correct” is really, at its most basic, plain good manners and politeness. substitute “polite” for “politically correct” in the whinges about such and it shows their true ugliness: people getting their undies in a knot about having to be civil to other people.
    La di Da’s last blog post..I surrendered to obesity! Shocking tales from the crypt!

  2. “Words Mean Stuff: thorny language”

    Please refrain using such derogative terms such as thorny that imply that there is something negative about the general shape of male genitals. And no, what you meant doesn’t matter as:

    I do ask that all your discussions be centred on the people on the pointy end of the power structures concerned.

    Also yet again, you’re attributing negativity to male genitals.
    Yes, yes, I realise I’m being a little be silly here. My point is that no matter how something is said it is all too easy to find offense. As La di Da points out politeness is important, however politeness is determine in the context of the intended audience. Where opposition to PoCo is strongest is where it interprets all usages of a word automatically as derogatory, irrespective of how the sender(s) or receivers would interpret it. It’s perfectly fine to point out potential derogatory interpretations, but attributing malice or recklessness through misinterpretation is not going to win support for the cause of creating a more polite and considerate society.

  3. Desipis – I do see the point you are attempting to make, and I know that you acknowledge that you are being silly, but without an actual history of derogatory usage your use of “thorny” and “pointy” does utterly fail.
    Also, I think the idea that PoCo ever “interprets all usages of a word automatically as derogatory” is false – that’s always been a reductio ad absurdum of arguments that people should think carefully about the words they use to avoid giving unintended offense.

  4. Desipis: suggest you re-read this bit:
    “This isn’t supposed to be prescriptive or the last word. I’m hoping to concentrate mainly (though not exclusively) on my own process throughout this. Some of these posts will be reminders to myself to stop and think before speaking, some will be little bits of obstreperation, and quite a few might be borderline or arguable cases.
    […]
    Please bear in mind that I’m not calling people out on genuine reclamation.”
    I’m not seeing a lot of absolutism here. It seems to me that you’re trying to pre-emptively take offence to posts I haven’t written yet.

  5. Also, I think the idea that PoCo ever “interprets all usages of a word automatically as derogatory” is false

    You obviously haven’t been on the receiving end of PC when it’s used to issue punishment to those engaging in legitimate private discussion. Perhaps the use of “PC” would have been a better example of something that has historically been used for oppression.
    Lauredhel, yes I probably should have read that bit more carefully, but I got distracted by the bold type. Which is actually the focus of my point too. I see such lopsided discussion as the primary cause of the absolutism I’m preemptively taking offense to. I’ll try to pay attention next time and not be so critical of someone embarking on a self improvement journey.

    Antifeminist, antiracist, bigoted, lazy whinges will be either vigorously rebutted or deleted.

    Antiracist?

  6. Desipis: I noticed that “antiracist” thing too – the mother of all Freudian slips.

  7. Slip. Non-Freudian. Fixed.
    Paul, don’t be an arse.

  8. Lauredhel, yes I probably should have read that bit more carefully, but I got distracted by the bold type. Which is actually the focus of my point too. I see such lopsided discussion as the primary cause of the absolutism I’m preemptively taking offense to.

    The bold print stands, and will be enthusiastically defended. If you object to it, I strongly suggest you don’t comment on these threads.
    If you’re determined to find this sort of discussion “lopsided”, I refer you to http://www.wordpress.com.

  9. A) i apologise to Lauredhel
    B) i shouldn’t use phrases I’ve heard but don’t understand the full meaning of
    C) I need to work on my impulsiveness (doctors told mum its cause of the brain damage from the stroke that crippled me – I’m on powerfull mood stablisers)
    D) I need to think “might this offend someone” before hitting “Send”
    E) I should have realised that i was implying that she was a racist – but i wasn’t thinking

  10. Cheers Paul, I appreciate it.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..?You?re such a buzzkill, snopes.?

  11. Thanks for this post.
    It addresses my long-standing and still growing irritation that the ‘politically correct’ label has long been used as a catch-all way to make it seem OK for people to be bigots. And yes, simple politeness and good manners isn’t too bad a rule of thumb.
    Even better, it has introduced me to the wonderful writing of Zuky – I’m not sure how I’ve missed that until now, but such a treasure trove of truly wonderful writing I’ve discovered there.
    Andrew Bartlett’s last blog post..Political compass of US President contest

  12. Even better, it has introduced me to the wonderful writing of Zuky

    Isn’t she marvellous?
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..?You?re such a buzzkill, snopes.?

  13. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2065349.ece
    Author Anne Fine. She’s right – old books aimed at children need to be edited when reprinted so new generations can enjoy the “good parts” and not be influenced by remnents of the time when they were written. It’s not “PC”, it’s being sensitive to a changed world. Even “decent” people like Hugh “Dr. Doolittle” Lofting and Mark Twain were products of the time and culture they were writing in.

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