Thursday, April 22, 2010

Political Correctness is the New Prejudice

All too often in this world, there is someone ready to be offended on someone else's behalf. And that is wrong - very wrong. Because it often leads to embarrassment, bad feeling and misery.

Take the example of Roy Amor.

He joked with a friend. It was his friend that he joked with. His friend was not offended because his friend knew it was a joke. They were, in the great Australian tradition, mates. Unlike many Australians, Roy was not afraid to be friends with others. The fact that his friend was a different colour to him did not affect their relationship. It wouldn't because neither Roy nor his friend were racists.

Yet Roy is now dead.

The reason Roy is dead is because of racism - don't doubt it. But not his racism.

A passerby overhead Roy's joke with his friend. And while his friend laughed with Roy as mates do - genuinely and with affection - the passerby did not. The passerby elected to be offended on behalf of Roy's friend and raised the joke as the act of a racist and Roy was thus the subject of an investigation.

Roy, the non-racist, whose friendship with others cared not for their race, colour or creed, felt so intimidated by the allegations of racism that he committed suicide.

The passerby, for whom colour was obviously an issue yet who considers themselves non-racist, must now consider the degree to which they are responsible for Roy's death.

Roy should not has committed suicide. It was not a reasonable thing to do. Plainly, he must have had other problems, other concerns on his mind. Clearly, there was much in Roy's life that influenced him. This case of political correctness gone mad just pushed the balance.

But that's the problem with taking on other people's 'offendedness'. Being offended on someone else's behalf might well be a good thing - we should all be offended at racism. But it is important to do so only when there is good reason. In other words, when there actually is a victim who is offended.

Many years ago, I worked with a close knit group of people. An obviously faked performance report was created for one in the group in a manner calculated to create much merriment with the person. It did. They were ecstatic and very pleased. A manager saw the report and the 'victim' was extremely embarrassed by the fiasco that followed which involved the flaying alive and severe tongue-lashing of the 'culprits'. Needless to say, the 'victim' was very upset. Not by the joke of which they fully approved, but by the result of the manager offended on their behalf. A manager who didn't even have the brains or consideration to talk to the 'victim' about it.

In Roy's case, as has been said, there were probably other things going on in his life or his mind that contributed to his death. But think about it - we all have other things going on in our lives. Who else will die because someone projects their own special variety of prejudice on someone else?

You cannot generalize in such situations. Humour, especially, is a very subjective thing. It is not something you can legislate on. If John (very tall) Cleese makes a joke about short people, a thousand people will be offended on behalf of the short. Yet if Ronnie Corbett tells the same joke, no-one is offended. Steady Eddy could see the humour in his disability - or at least in what others with prejudice call a disability. Should we stone him? What if he was 'normal' - can we stone him then?

Racism - like most ISMs - is not right and should not be tolerated. People, especially in the workplace or the school - should not be subjected to racism, bullying, sexism or any other discriminatory treatment. We need zero tolerance.

But we need to be zero tolerant to discriminatory treatment. In Roy's friend's case, there was no discrimination. Except against Roy.

Political Correctness surely is the new prejudice.

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