• No Excuse for Offensive Behaviour

    So-called “casual racism” hit the headlines recently, following the publicity attending the Mad Butcher’s reported remarks to fellow-visitors to Waiheke.  As Dame Susan Devoy, our Race Relations Commissioner, pointed out concerning that incident, racism may not seem “casual” to those who are its target.

    “Casual” racism may in some senses actually be even more damaging and more of a danger signal than when it is more deliberate and overt.  Racism, when unmistakeable, is more easily recognised and therefore countered or opposed.  But when it is “casual” and therefore unthinking, and reveals sentiments that are scarcely formulated but which simply rise unbidden to the surface, it is more likely to stay beneath the radar and to have a better chance of being regarded as acceptable and part of the everyday discourse.

    The debate about “casual racism” is closely related to the issue of “political correctness”.  Just as the word “casual” is meant to deflect criticism of, and to diminish the significance of, unacceptable behaviour, so too is the oft-repeated claim that protests about such behaviour are examples of “political correctness gone mad”.

    This defence has been deployed so often by those who seek to brush aside criticism of offensive words and actions that “PC” has become a veritable term of abuse.  This practice became so much a government-endorsed attitude that the portfolio of Wayne Mapp, a government minister, no less, was extended in 2005 to cover the “monitoring of political correctness issues”, as though it were a contagious disease.

    We should not be so easily taken in.  “Political correctness” is a term devised by those who are careless about exacerbating divisions in our society and who seek to avoid justified disapproval for doing so.

    No one suggests that offensive views should be censored, but those expressing them should expect to be criticised or at least scrutinised if they do so.  They should not expect to shelter behind a mindless epithet and to get away with the suggestion that any criticism is politically motivated.

    Indeed, the “correctness” that is referred to would be better captured by the word “acceptability” – and it is hard to see how the word “political” got into the picture, other than for its derogatory connotations.

    The acceptability that is being sought is not “political” but rather social or moral.  It is essentially about how we treat each other.  One would hope that most of us would endorse the notion that we are all better off if we treat each other with thoughtfulness, understanding and, above all, kindness.

    Most of us will naturally display such attitudes in our dealings with our fellow-citizens –especially those whom we come across individually in our day-to-day lives.  Life would be a miserable business if we were constantly creating conflict and tensions.  Most of us would not see it as acceptable to offend, casually or otherwise, those we meet or speak to or about, or to treat them so as to denigrate or insult them or make them uncomfortable or unhappy.

    Why, then, do we think it is acceptable for people who are given the privilege of airing their views in public – and often on television – to abandon those normal standards of behaviour and to insult and offend – sometimes just as a form of entertainment – those whose offence is merely that they are different in some respect or another?

    Next time you hear someone accused of “political correctness” because they object to such behaviour, pause for a moment, reflect and ask yourself – is it really so wrong to expect, indeed demand, that those in public life, in politics or the media especially, should demonstrate the same care, tolerance and goodwill that we, hopefully, take for granted in our own person-to-person interactions?

    “Political correctness”, in other words, is a misnomer that denotes no more than the proper standards of behaviour writ large – projected on to the social scale affecting all of us rather than just the individual scale.  We should demand no less from those who claim to speak on our behalf than that they should meet the standards we choose to set for ourselves – that we should speak to each other courteously and kindly.

    Bryan Gould

    15 January 2017

     

2 Comments

  1. tony simpson says: January 20, 2017 at 6:12 amReply

    Bravo! I have long objected to the use of this epithet as an excuse for not thinking through what is being said or objected to but instead is used as form of insulting dismissal of valid criticism when the person using the expression PC can’t be bothered thinking about what their interlocutor is saying. It popped up regularly when I was managing Jim Anderton’s correspondence hen he was a Minister. All it means is that I hold your political perspective in contempt and refuse to take them seriously

  2. Bryan Gould says: January 20, 2017 at 6:34 pmReply

    Thanks Tony, Good to hear from you. You’ll have more reason than most to know how easily and unthinkingly the epithet can be used. Kind regards, Bryan