I’ll get me PC Straitjacket….

Entertaining piece on PC in the Guardian today from the nicely named Marcus Brigstocke.

On the BBC:

Some gays and Asians and Muslims and disabled people pay the licence fee too, so would the straight, white, able-bodied, Christian, PC-phobic majority just shut up for a bit? (Don’t worry, another ethnically cleansed Only Fools and Horses or EastEnders will be along in moment or two.)

On the uses of PC:

Accusations of politically correct thought control have become a pathetic and transparent excuse for lazy racists, sexists and Islamophobes the land over. Challenging PC has become a game of chicken for bigots – daring each other to run out into the busy PC motorway and say something stupid before dashing back for cover. Who will dare to go the furthest without actually invading Poland? The Tories? Ukip? The Daily Mail?

On its importance:

PC exists to balance out the loudest voices, who assume that the things they are used to are somehow sacred or (God forbid) “traditional”, just because no one’s had the sense or the balls to change them.

I’m not sure if the idea of PC actually existing to fulfil such a purpose is, well, right on. There should be no need to check ones choice of words against some notional glossary of appropriateness.

What is needed, though, is a deeper understanding of the meaning of one’s words, and a greater consciousness of the fact that many of our opinions are based on received ideas and ideologised representations.

If I say, for example, the Spanish are a fiery and passionate people, who gesticulate wildly and enjoy dancing flamenco, I might not be saying anything controversial, at least according to popular and historic representations of Spanish people in Britain and Ireland. But to many Spanish people it is a misrepresentation based on gross generalisation. Its offensiveness as a misrepresentation is not for me, but for the person being represented, to decide.

To say ‘but there’s nothing wrong with saying it as I see it’ betrays a lack of awareness that ‘as I see it’ in this context is never immediate truth but an interpretation of brute reality that occurs under the influence of innumerable received ideas, that have been created by people dead and alive.

This does not mean that no-one has a valid point of view on anything; warnings that a piano is about to fall on our heads, or that we are driving on the wrong side of the road should still, of course, be heeded. What it does mean at the very least, however, is that we should think (cue Aretha Franklin) about how we have arrived at our conclusions before holding forth with our view that council house dwellers are moral degenerates, that Irish Nationalists/Palestinians/Israelis/Americans/whoever belong to a sick society, that Islam is incompatible with democracy et cetera.

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May 2005

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