The Santa Barbara News-Press has found itself in the center of a war of words and it will not back down to demands of protesters that the paper cease using the term "illegal" to describe individuals in this country illegally. The initial protests started after a January 3rd headline in the paper reading “Illegals Line Up for Driver’s Licenses.” The protesters have held rallies and the story is getting attention from other news agencies. One protester spray-painted the following on the front entrance of the paper: “The border is illegal, not the people who cross it.”
Some news agencies such as the Associated Press, have banned the use of certain terms deemed politically incorrect. Some in our society find themselves walking on eggshells when conversing in public lest they inadvertently utter an offensive term.
The shifting sands of Political Correctness are difficult to navigate as the verboten terms are constantly changing. One person's earnest attempt to communicate is another's personal affront. We have twisted our language in knots, often using Politically Correct terms which do not have the same meaning as the original, now insensitive terms.
The practical application of Political Correctness, according to Wikipedia, is in "the descriptive vocabulary that the speaker and the writer use in effort to eliminate the prejudices inherent to cultural, sexual and racist stereotypes with culturally neutral terms, such as the locutions, circumlocutions, and euphemisms presented in the Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook (1993) such as:
- "Intellectually disabled" in place of mentally retarded
- "African American" in place of Black and Negro, in the United States
- "Afro-Caribbean" in place of Negro in the United Kingdom.
- "Native American" in place of Indian, in the United States
- "First Nations" in place of Indian, in Canada
- Gender-neutral terms such as "firefighter" in place of fireman and firewoman, "police officer" in place of policeman and policewoman
- Value-free terms describing physical disabilities, such as "visually impaired" in place of blind and "hearing impaired" in place of deaf
- Value-free cultural terms, such as "Holiday season" and "Winter holiday", in place of Christmas"
Personally, I never wish to intentionally offend another by my use (or misuse) of language. Political Correctness has its place and importance by eliminating prejudices but I question if our culture has taken it too far? When we find ourselves unsure which terms we can use to communicate with our neighbors, it can feel like we no longer speak a common language.
Should I use the term, "African-American" or "Black?" Should I use the term, "Latino" or "Hispanic?" As best I can discern, it depends upon the sensitivities of the listener. I honestly do not wish to offend anyone but I find myself at a loss.
Of course, there are more absurd uses of Political Correctness. And we see them all around us. We work so hard at trying to avoid offending each other. The masters of the art of Political Correctness are government agencies. Their PC wordsmiths are to be admired for their ingenuity. I do not always agree with their attempts to change the language, but I understand it. Politicians and lawyers represent two sides of a coin. One avoids offending at all costs and the other extracts all costs when one is offended.