Politically Incorrect

Something happened in class the other day that really got me thinking.  Let’s start from the beginning.

This semester, I have been taking a class on employment discrimination.  We talk about ways that employers and businesses become liable for how they treat protected groups.  Different groups are protected based on statutory provisions.  For example, Title VII of the United States Code provides protection against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, etc.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), not surprisingly, requires employers and businesses open to the public to make certain accommodations for disabled people.

During the class period where we were discussing the ADA, our professor told us a story about her husband.  Her husband has a condition that confines him to a wheelchair.  In this story, she told us that they took a trip took to New York.  They were standing in line at a deli; the line was long enough that it went outside of the store.  An employee came out multiple times and asked them to come inside.  When my professor asked why, she was told that it was because my professor’s husband was disabled.  They both politely declined, saying that they could wait in line just as well as anybody else.  Finally, the manager came out and brought them inside to a table.  He explained, “If a city official were to walk by and see you in line at my store, I could get a fine for making you wait in line.  It doesn’t matter if you think you’re OK to wait.”

As my professor told us this, she said something like, “While the statute was without a doubt meant to make things easier for disabled people, it ended up making my husband feel like he was singled out!”

Right after she said this, a student in the back mumbled a comment.  The professor asked the student to speak up, and the student said, “Not ‘disabled person,’ but ‘person with a disability.'”

This really made me upset, and I’ve been trying to figure out why ever since that class.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this student had heard a black person refer to himself/herself as “black” would she have correct them?  “Oh, sorry.  It’s ‘African American.'”  If they had been calling each other the “N word” would she have corrected them?

"I'm sorry, you can't say that."

My problem is this:  why does this student think she can correct my professor when the professor is talking about her own life.  Here was my professor, talking about her own life, talking about the challenges she and her husband face on a day-to-day basis, and the student has the audacity to correct her.  Has being politically correct become such a social necessity that we have to right to correct how a person refers to their own group of people?

Don’t get me wrong, I think that some there are certain words that are so offensive, that I think they shouldn’t  be said.  But who am I to correct a person who is talking about their own life?  Since when do I have the right to tell people how to refer to themselves?  to a person they love?  Telling people what they can and can’t call themselves seems overbearingly paternalistic.  It is as if we are saying they aren’t even competent to pick a name for themselves.

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2 Comments on “Politically Incorrect”

  1. Sarah says:

    Interesting point to consider: Deaf people who are part of the cultural Deaf community sometimes get really mad if you call them “hearing impaired”. To them, being deaf is just part of who they are, and they are proud to own it. (this is not applicable to all people who have hearing impairments but to those who identify with the capital D Deaf community.)

    • jaromgi says:

      I actually brought up the Deaf community when we were talking about this. Part of the requirement under the statute is that the “disability substantially limits one or more major life activities.” and I think that the Deaf community would argue (strongly so) that they aren’t substantially limited by not being able to hear.


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