We are in an era now, with the popularity of the internet and social networking, that we can quickly discover that some people are affected negatively by our words/actions where we might not have otherwise known. For example, because I’ve always had friends and family in the LGBT community, I’ve been aware of the negative impact of using the word “gay” as an insult or a derogatory statement for all/most of my adult life. However, I didn’t grow up around anyone who was mentally handicapped so I was already an adult before I learned that saying something, “is retarded!” hurts a lot of people in a lot of communities I don’t want to hurt. I had to retrain myself not to fall back on using the word “retarded” as a synonym for “crazy” or “ludicrous” or “ridiculous”.
It’s embarrassing to realize you’ve been doing something wrong as an adult. It really is. So embarrassing, I’m not going to tell you how old I was when I learned that the word “retarded” was an insult to use so casually. (I will say this: It was BEFORE the “End the R Word” campaign. Thank goodness. I can have pride in at least that.) I also won’t tell you how old I was when I learned that you don’t use “Oriental” to describe people (Donnie had to teach me that…I’m still mortified) and that some behavior – like dressing as a geisha for a concert – is referred to as Cultural Appropriation and an be offensive to the group from whom you’re “borrowing” elements of their culture.
Some people get irritated because they say there is too much “political correctness” going on in our society. But I don’t look at it as a rise in PC, I look at it as a rise in the ripple effect of our words. If you were isolated from the LGBT community, you might go your whole life not knowing that saying, “That’s gay!” is offensive. But now, that community within reach of your Facebook statuses and you have a choice: Do you say, “I’m so sick of political correctness!” or do you say, “Wow. The ripples of my actions reach further now so I need to be more aware of the communities they touch and how those communities react to my words/actions.”
And we need to boldly say: I DID NOT KNOW. I WAS WRONG. I AM SORRY.
It’s embarrassing to say that. VERY embarrassing. I know a friend of mine growing up had a sister with Down Syndrome. I didn’t know her sister, I just knew of her, but did I ever use the word “retarded” casually around her? I have no idea. I think that was a trend that popped up later in my life, but I’m not sure. Did I upset her when I said it?
But it’s a GOOD thing. Yes. There is ALWAYS someone who gets offended at EVERYTHING. We can not make everyone happy. But I tend to judge the room. If a lot of people on my feed are talking about something being offensive, or posting links to articles on Twitter or Facebook, then I take notice. I think I’ve developed a wide range of sources of information from the ultra-conservative family members to the ultra-liberal friends. I can get a pretty accurate gauge on whether or not something is offensive to more than one person. For example: When Katy Perry performed as a geisha at that show? I saw no less than 5 well-written and thought provoking articles or statuses about cultural misappropriation. So, I took notice. I learned something new. I admitted I was wrong.
(You know, that time I performed in front of 20,000 people dressed as a geisha.)
It’s hard. But we have to be able to do it in order to really embrace the positive that a diverse online community can give us.
It’s also hard to navigate it. I know people who are REALLY offended when there’s not a prayer offered before a race and I know people who are REALLY offended when there IS a prayer offered before a race. The majority of the people want a prayer, but does that mean you ignore those offended by it? Do you offer a moment of silence instead and then offend people who thing our country is facing so many problems because we’re NOT praying enough and we’re doing more “moments of silence” than actual prayer?
I don’t know. There are times where you just have to decide to offend someone. And some people (as an atheist I can say this: atheists are the WORST) just like causing a scene about things that are quite benign. But still, we need to at least be AWARE of how our words/actions affect other communities and we need to be willing to make adjustments to our speech/behavior if it’s warranted.
So. I’m writing this to admit to you: I was very wrong at certain points in my adult life. I misused the word “oriental” and casually used the word “retarded”. I never performed as a geisha in from of 20,000 people, but I’m certain I borrowed things from other cultures without thinking about it at all. (I seem to recall carrying a beaded purse for awhile that looked like it was made by a Native American.) I’m not going to beat myself up about these things, but I’m going to admit I was wrong about them. Admit I did not know my words/actions offended people.
Did you learn anything as an adult that you were embarrassed to find out was offensive to other groups/cultures/communities? Can you share what you learned as an effort to maybe teach others? It’s never too late!