Is Political Correctness an excuse for avoiding Culturally Sensitive issues?

The Canadian Association of Settlement & Employment Workers hosted a Debate held at Yorkwoods Library Theatre on Monday Dec 6, 2010


I spoke in favor of the motion and the house unanimously agreed!

Let me begin by being politically IN-CORRECT otherwise we’ll never be able to have an honest debate

  • At an annual contest at Texas A&M University calling for the most appropriate definition of the term Political Correctness, the winner wrote,
    “Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional,
    illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream
    media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible
    to pick up a turd by the clean end.”
  • The politically correct definition is that PC is a social idea that is characterized by efforts to redress, mainly by the use of language, real or supposed discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, nationality, disability or any other criteria  that could offend a particular group .The main goal behind political correctness is to prevent the exclusion or the offending of people based upon differences or handicaps.
  • Some scholars say that PC is a political ideology and leads to  The End Of Intelligent Thought promoting ignorance and self-indulgence
  • So PC may be different things to diff people but speaking in broad strokes let me give you an example from yesterdays Toronto Star in a piece called MUSINGS by Patricia Pearson where she bemoans the fact that her daughters Christmas concert at school has been renamed WINTERFEST. She writes and I quote “mention of spiritual beliefs has been strictly forbidden by her teachers”
  • This is an example of pc gone bad. Christmas, the celebration of a majority of Canadians has been stolen away by the Grinch of PC whereas it would be so much more effective if students could understand and celebrate ALL festivals
  • Its in the school system that PC can be really problematic. I travel across Ontario to small towns to speak about racism and discrimination and I find that teachers are troubled because they are now dealing with a hugely diverse group of students but have no idea of what makes them tick. If for example a Muslim student says they need to take half a day off on Friday for prayers, the teacher has been told not to question this. The simple fact is that they DON’T need half a day becos an hour is enough,  but who’s going to have this conversation when PC puts a stop to any discussion about faith.
  • I first heard the term PC when I came to Canada 20 years ago and I’ve been battling the concept from day one. Most of us who are South Asian immigrants to Canada will understand that we don’t indulge in PC in our countries of origin. We say things AS they are and AS we see them and freely indulge in using plain language. The key is not to use terms in a derogatory way.  For example the medical community defines  people who are blind and deaf in exactly these terms with no offense intended. This is how the masses understand that there are hospitals, clinics and treatments for blind and deaf people.
  • Our children are taught to take pride in who they are so whether they are brown, black, white or any other colour, that’s what they must learn to live with and never allow  it become a slur. Its only when labels becomes slurs that the context changes to racism and bigotry and THAT we have to watch out for.
  • There’s a lot of wisdom in this. Canada today is a country made up of immigrants from all over the world. We bring with us our various faiths and traditions to make this the magnificent multicultural mosaic that we see. Sometimes we also bring excess cultural baggage which is hard for others to comprehend unless we communicate and eliminate ignorance.
  • But how on earth are we going to learn to get along if you aren’t even allowed to ask someone where they are from? And what’s so ethically or morally wrong in doing so. I always ask because that’s the only way we learn about each other. I’ll go a step further and ask more questions. But the concept of PC is killing our natural curiosity.
  • Kids are naturally curious and I love that. They will ask their parents on the subway “why is she wearing a ring in her nose” and the parents say shush you can’t say that. I say that of course you can – it gives me a chance to have a conversation and make a friend.
  • At the most someone will respond and say that its none of your business – hey you know I can live with that. Its no insult if the people don’t want to share but to PRESUME that everyone must follow a certain code of language and behavior is dictatorial to say the least.
  • Speaking of presumption. I was invited to a very upscale womens executive lunch where everyone was served in fine china and my food arrived in a sorry looking stryofoam container. Why? Because they presumed without asking me that since I’m a Muslim, I would eat only halal food so they catered from outside. The interesting point to note here is that had they consulted me I would have told them that the fish which was served as the main course for everyone else IS halal. But you see PC kept them from asking. Although the intent  here was noble, the result was very unpalatable and I would rather have eaten the salad.
  • This is why PC is a hindrance not  only to understanding each other but in solving issues. In places of work, I observe a huge divide because people see different traditions, ways of dress, perhaps accents and they have been told that its politically incorrect to ask the other person why they do something they do, or to repeat themselves. I tell you in England sometimes I can’t understand their English so its  never a problem to ask them to repeat themselves. You would NEVER see this happening in Canada – Big NO NO.
  •  Canadian institutions like the police, health department and security  are dealing with issues everyday where they are not allowed to ask individuals key questions due to PC and end up with serious lapses in the system.
  • Our politicians are VERY politically correct so they walk on tip toes when addressing issues – actually they bypass many serious issues due to PC and also because they want votes – this is with due respect to any politicians who may be here tonight.
  • To the South of us we saw that Affirmative action was not successful and we as Canadians should take that as a yardstick to understand the PC is not a preferred choice. Left to our own resources, we will fumble our way through embarrassing moments and learn about each other and from each other.
  • Having said the above, its extremely important to keep in mind that we need to be respectful and sensitive to everyone around us – however that is not PC.
  • A common example of PC is to use the term African-American” in place of “Black – however  the last time I said this to describe someone, they were offended because they’re neither African nor American but they are black and preferred to be called just that.
  • Today I hear that the terms BLACK coffee and BLACK board are not acceptable under PC. In UK the nursery rhyme Baa Baa black sheep has been changed perhaps to Baa Baa colour-of-the-night- sheep. Give me a break.
  • In pursuit of changing the language, there is a push to insert  “Gender-neutral” terms such as “firefighter” in place of “fireman” but this goes too far when you can’t use any term with the three letter word MAN so now its going to be person-holes instead of manholes and mail – persons instead of mailmen and on and on and on.
  • IN ending I would like to point out the Canada prides itself on freedom of speech and in my opinion, PC is a challenge to freedom of expression.