Jon Cogburn did not exactly cover himself in glory in his latest post, where he decries the rhetoric of ableism. (And to be fair to other New APPS contributors, one of his co-bloggers quickly denounced the post, though perhaps taking it down would be a better option, just speaking blog administrator to blog administrator.)
It’s a familiar genre: the white man’s cri de coeur about the excesses of political correctness. Such rants always start from a place of entitlement, so that demands to think about the way you talk are always presumptively an imposition (rather than common courtesy). The white man has been a good sport up till now, the story goes, but now, now they’ve gone too far! Is he seriously expected not to speak the bold truth that being able to see is preferable to blindness? We see a similar dynamic in public debates over the transgender community’s preferences for how people should talk about them — the underlying affect in mainstream responses is one of irritation that we’re supposed to regard transgender experience as an intelligible phenomenon rather than a weird abberation.
As a white man, I must admit that I have felt that tug of resistence upon learning of a previously unknown “politically correct” speech pattern. There is something irritating, after all, about being told that a phrase that I meant completely innocently has been taken as an insult. Over the years, though, I’ve developed a unique strategy for dealing with such feelings: instead of writing a 1000-word blog post vindicating myself against the unjust charges, I simply apologize for causing offense and move on with my life. Indeed, I take the further step of trying to be more aware of similar phrases in that vein.
And I can testify that my ability to express myself elegantly and effectively has not been permanently damaged by the restrictions of not being a total dick to people and not making a point of rubbing their disadvantages in their faces. Language is a robust and supple tool, able to bear up even under the weight of basic human decency.