Almost uniformly, when you speak out publicly against someone using language that is harmful, someone will pop up and say that political correctness is a bad thing, or at best a useless thing. It’s not uncommon to find a person who rails against whoever they see as the cause of political correctness (often ‘the left’ or ‘the liberals’). Often they’ll speak in terms of cramping freedom of expression.
Here’s the thing – when you say something like that, what you’re really saying is this: my desire to use these words matters more than who I hurt with them, or societal prejudices I reinforce with them.
That’s kind of ugly, isn’t it?
What is to me perhaps saddest and most depressing is cases where someone who is affected by the language – for example, a PWD speaking about someone who is AB using the word ‘cripple’ – excuses it. I find myself wondering, don’t they know this language is harmful? Don’t they know that this language undercuts the ability of society to accept us as equals? Don’t they know that the words matter? Don’t they know that this language hurts people?
I guess the answer is that either they don’t know or they don’t care.
So the next time you’re thinking about brushing off someone’s concern over language, remember that words matter and that someone who is being affected by words may be better able to pick out hurtful language than you are.
Social justice is about changing attitudes, and that means changing language, too.