Miss Manners: Names and being politically correct

I have really struggled to write this post the past few days. There is so much going on in the world and so many things that I feel need to be said. Things I will say until I am blue in the face. I finally decided to put this topic under my “miss manners” concept. When I go to the gym I like to watch the news and probably once a week a pundit will mention their frustration at the idea of “political correctness.”

I see this as the problem: It is impossible to be politically correct with everyone. Let me say this again – impossible. The real problem is that when you are talking about being “politically correct” you are talking about not hurting another person because of a name you are calling them. The reason I argue that “political correctness” is impossible comes down to personal pain-points. What is a painful name to one person, might not be painful to someone else.

There are levels and layers of this issue which are discussed by people much smarter than myself. I’ve read articles on several sides talking about how one name or another is the “wrong name” for the particular group.  As I read them, I agree with them. And at the same time I sometimes sit there and think “then what is safe?!?” (exactly what the news pundits complain about). On that scale – it is impossible. If you use a name to differentiate from just “human” you might/probably use a term that feels painful to someone.

As far as manners go, I try to respect the person in front of me. If someone wants to be called “gay” – fine. If they want to be “African American” – ok. If they want to “humanist” – whatever… Just because I will fight to be called feminist and to make people understand what that means to me… that is a different rant. Manners if about respecting the name someone wants to go by.

The other side of this is to respect when people actually do say “don’t call me ____” – it takes strength to say those words. There is great vulnerability in saying “you just hurt me” – it means opening the door for a cruel person to say it just to wound. It’s terrible. Sometimes unbearable. When someone trusts you enough to tell you… I can only hope anyone reading this has enough character to understand how special that is.

Now, I think we all know there are names you might call people which have been so brutally applied that they are no longer safe – in any context. There is such a thing as reappropriation – “suffragette” was a derogatory term at one point and it was reclaimed. I don’t know when a word can be said to be reclaimed. It’s always a better idea to err on the side of politeness – don’t use a name to someone when it hurts them.

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