Those People
September 28, 2010
"So you didn't go because of all those gay people?" Pause. Repeat. "Because of all those gay people?"

I stopped dead in the hallway at work this morning. I was hoping for context for this conversation spoken overly loud in order to carry over several cubicles to reach its intended recipient.

I saw the older man who said it. I saw another older man to whom the conversation was directed. Maybe there is context in which this was benign. Maybe there is a long-standing and familiar joke between these two which I am missing.

And truthfully, I would have ground to a halt and turned back and stared in disbelief had any number of words been substituted for the one I heard. Fat, retarded, pick-a-skin-colour, pick-a-nationality, pick-a-religion. The key to the phrasing was "those people." Whoever those people are.

You see, those people are my friends. They are my family. They are people about whom I care.

This is not about some state-mandated political correctness. This is about respect for the people around you.

You see, you don't know when a gay co-worker might be walking by. Or the father of a child with Down's Syndrome. Or the brother of a Jehovah's Witness. Or the aunt of a bi-racial child.

And your off-hand talk about how "that is so gay" or "geez, that policy is so retarded" when you don't mean disrespect to gays or those with mental disabilities affects people despite your intent.

Sure, people can be overly sensitive. I was once told I could not call my cat "special" or retarded despite the fact that he did have a vet's diagnosis of mental retardation/brain damage &endash; because a relative knew people who had that for real. No amount of explaining could make him see that I was using the word clinically, the same as I did for the cat who had cancer. I think that was a little over-sensitive of him &endash; but because I respect him, I simply don't refer to that cat's problems around that relative. Out of respect.

But all too often we don't think before we speak or tweet or write. We just mouth off and then act shocked when someone "decides" to take offense when we are not respectful.

I didn't take offense this morning. But that phrasing has haunted me all day, nonetheless. I didn't choose for it to do so, but it generates so very many questions. Is this someone who might become violent around people who are different? Or worse, someone who just snipes behind the back, trying to undermine everyone else's opinions of anyone he thinks might be gay? It's so easy to fire someone just for being gay. It's not like marital status or skin colour or religion. Your employer has to come up with a better reason than those things if he wants to fire you. But if you're gay? Hey, we don't like "those people" here. Don't bother coming back.

Given the tiny bit of context I had, this is probably nothing to worry about. Probably.

But the uncertainty remains.

Those people.

.

And before I could hit publish, the ineffable Angie had posted a story which, quite honestly, was so related, I had to link to it here. Gay Cupcakes Are So Gay.

And, disturbingly, others on Twitter started pointing out multiple similar stories or issues with morons having issues with "Teh Gays."

Posted by Red Monkey at September 28, 2010 4:39 PM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

I'm all for a dab of political correctness, and there is a limit that can be pushed too far forward. However, the more "we" separate from "them," the more blurred the lines of understanding and compassion become.

September 28, 2010 4:56 PM

 

Frieda said:

Excellent post and the gentle nudge we all need from time to time.

A few years ago, a former co-worker and I were trying to navigate a poorly-designed web app in order to pitch a better UI. We came across one particular element in the design and - without even thinking - I said, "That is rather queer." Right after I said it, I knew it was something I could not 'undo'. My co-worker replied, "You know, Frieda, a lot of things in this world are 'queer'." I awkwardly apologized and told her I had meant the particular function was 'odd'.

The rest of that day and the whole night I let my errant, albeit innocent, comment consume me. My dog was limping the next morning and I called in to take a 1/2 day so I could get him in at the vet. I next called my aforementioned co-worker and apologized again for my insensitive comment. She was very understanding, told me to stop beating myself up over it and hoped that my dog was okay.

Sometimes we say stupid things without thinking. It happens. Collective bashing in the workplace/public? Unacceptable.

I am also reminded of something that happened to a very dear, sweet friend of mine. She was bustling around busily and a person in front of her would not move out of the way after she repeatedly said, "Excuse me, please." It turned out this individual was deaf.

September 28, 2010 5:31 PM

 

Tara R. said:

I saw the article regarding the cupcakes. That was incredibly asinine, and I hope the negative publicity makes the bakery owner re-think his stupidity.


I think sometimes political correctness can be taken too far, but there is a serious need to just be thoughtful in what we say and how we say it.

September 28, 2010 10:02 PM

 

Daisy said:

Well said.

September 29, 2010 8:33 AM

 

inthefastlane said:

I usually think I am sensitive to what I say. But, this has reminded me that i really do need to think more about what I say and how.

Sometimes, though, there are certain people who embarrassment by their lack of thought. Sometimes those people are my relatives.

Personally, I have friends from all sorts of walks of life and I need to make sure that my speech reflects this.

September 29, 2010 9:17 PM
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