In today’s cultural environment it seems the fine line between prejudice and specifics is so fine, one must hold their breath when traversing it for fear of stepping outside it and suffering the wrath of the offended.
I clearly remember my first incident of this phenomenon, I was but a fifteen year old telling of an encounter from my day, when I described the person I had spoken with as (to the best of my recollection) “a pleasant Asian man, probably in his fifties”. The adult to which I was telling my tale immediately question why I had to describe this man as Asian. My answer was “because he was Asian, is there a problem with that?”
As an avid reader and writer it was second nature to fill out my stories with as much detail as I could remember to most clearly paint the picture of my encounter. I did not see any problem with describing an Asian man as an Asian man.
This encapsulates my quandary. Are we too sensitive to identifying characteristics in other people?
For me the distinction lies, as with most issues in life, with the intention behind the words. Not the words themselves.
Was there ever any reason to think I was being racist for merely describing an Asian man as Asian? I think not. At the time I remember my first internal response was “why would this be an issue, there is nothing wrong with being Asian so for someone to question me on the use of the term maybe they are racist”.
There has been other encounters and situations where my choice of words has been questioned, as I am sure many of you have had happen. Currently I think it is getting a bit out of control.
A newspaper headline may be able to claim “Double amputee saves a child from fire” with no negative backlash about their choice to accurately describe the person involved as a double amputee. But, another headline reading “Lesbian couple deserve their place in Norway’s heroic narrative” is sure to cause an uproar. Because the married couple who’s heroic feats the headline is describing are labelled lesbians.
So why then would sections of society take offence to the women being described as lesbian?. The necessity of the descriptive term is called into question by some. For me I just look at the possible reason behind its use. What is wrong with portraying two women who are proud of their relationship in an accurate manner? Did the article give the impression that being a lesbian was unsavoury? I think not. Did the article try to foster a sense of pride being taken in the accomplishments of these two brave women? I think so.
Political correctness could have a major causality in the form of accurateness to my way of thinking. Imagine if you were a witness to a crime perpetuated by a grey haired midget with an indian accent, crossed eyes and a lisp. Heaven forbid you should provide the police with an accurate description for fear of someone calling you racist or a bigot.
How far will political correctness go? Will we one day be aghast at a person describing a fellow human being as male or female?
It is often obvious when racism is the intent of the assigned descriptor and I would encourage people to not question the use of the specific descriptor if it is accurate.
As a writer I will fiercely defend my right to accurately, eloquently and colourfully describe the people and world around me. Every characteristic, nuance and detail is what makes a person unique, makes them truly individual in this swelling sea of humanity.