Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PC terminology

I’ve always tended to roll my eyes at ever-changing political correct labels for groups, figuring there’s no real logic to what name is considered polite at a particular point in time. It seems like names just wear out over time and are replaced by new fresh labels periodically.

So I was surprised to read about one logical change in labels in Vernon Smith’s autobiography, where he talks extensively about his pro civil rights activities and race relations in the 30s through 60s. Apparently the “negro” label was replaced with “black” because it was too formal when compared to the “white” label universally used instead of “Caucasian”. Obviously the derogatory derivative “nigger” is insulting but “negro” became insulting as well since it was also unequal to the label for the majority.

In that light it is pretty hilarious that now “black” is being replaced with “African American”, and likewise “Indian” or even “American Indian” is being replaced with “Native American”. (Not to mention that “blacks” and “African Americans” are not the same groups of people, since many African Americans are white and many blacks aren’t American, and “black” is the relevant title when discussing skin-tone based discrimination and associations.)

What’s even funnier is that (so I hear) many blacks object to the new overly-formal and inaccurate title. PC language is lately more designed to avoid guilt than to avoid insult, judging by how much more crap I hear about racism from privileged white people than from marginalized minorities (Ok, that may have something to do with the city I live in…) There is certainly no logic in the crippled -> disabled -> handicapped -> mobility challenged chain. They all mean the same thing.

Over time, whatever the current terminology is, bigoted people will abuse it for bigoted purposes. The people, not the terminology, need changing.