The Madness of Getting Mad About Political Correctness Gone Mad

On May 11, 2014 by Lonesome George

Politically Correct Ride Sign

Racism is all in the context. Saying a particular word is not racist in itself. It totally depends how you say it, why you are saying it and how it is perceived. This means whether an act is racist or not is complicated and requires a subjective judgement. Unfortunately, this is a bit much for our reductionist rule-seeking brains to continually process and discuss so the best way to behave in practice for most of us is to simply not use racially charged words even if you are able to reasonably argue that it is not racist in the context you are doing it. It does not necessarily mean you are racist if you use terms associated with racism, but it probably does make you stupid and irresponsible if you choose to do so in a context where it may be viewed as inappropriate.

Politically Correct - David Lowe - Devon

The catalyst for me writing this is the news story about a veteran DJ David Lowe on BBC Radio Devon who played an old song (“The Sun has got his Hat On” in fact – who would have thought that??) containing what we would now consider racist language (it was clearly prejudiced in its content by the way but racism was so accepted back in the good old days that we didn’t even have a word for it). He wasn’t aware of the content of the song (so it is reported in the predictably outraged Mail newspaper) and offered to apologise so I find myself in the worrying position of agreeing with the Mail that he should not have been sacked, unless there is an unreported further context of course.

Politically Correct Jeremy Clarkson N Word Crying

Jeremy Clarkson muttered the same offending word reciting a well-known old nursery rhyme in a clip he never intended to be broadcast. Clarkson does have previous form and likes to push boundaries (and let’s be honest provocative humour can be funny – sometimes things that are wrong are funny because they are wrong and in the right context this is acceptable and can even be used ironically to mock and discredit people who actually have ignorant views. Not that I think Clarkson uses humour in that way) but he has profusely apologised, explained the context of situation and, for me, being disciplined just short of sacking is probably about right.

Politically Correct Ron Atkinson

Ron Atkinson famously referred to a black footballer as a “f*****g lazy n****r”. This one was strange because it was done in such a casual way. Maybe it indicated a deeper level of prejudice. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it just reflected someone from a generation where casual racial stereotyping was not recognised for the deep harm it does in society. Who knows? He had to be fired though. You simply can’t say that. I am also pleased to see him back working on the telly again many years later, hopefully chastened and educated.

Politically Correct John Terry and Luis Suarez

Other examples in football are John Terry and Luis Suarez. Their actions were clearly racist in their nature because they were said directly to someone in a way designed to be provocative. They should, in my opinion, both have been dealt with more harshly and Terry in particular got off very lightly.

My point is that the circumstances in each case are different and blanketing them together as “racist” is an inevitable consequence of our desire to simplify our understanding but leads to the nuance of the arguments being lost. The fight against “political correctness gone mad” is, to muddle a metaphor, a double-edged and particularly complicated sword. If it is a fight to allow people free speech but ensure they take fair and proportionate responsibility for their actions considering the social positions they are in and a fight to not just frenziedly berate people who have done something a little bit wrong then I am in. If however, the fight against “political correctness gone mad” is ultimately driven by a nostalgic desire to take us back to a past where casual prejudice was so prevalent it was not even noticed, then I do not want any part of it.

Some overly-zealous PC lobbyists wrongly claiming a victim every now and then should be reported and regretted but it is a price well worth paying to live in a society where our deeply entrenched prejudices can slowly but surely continue to be challenged to move us inch by inch to a time when we start to see and value the things that make us the same rather than the things that make us different.





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