Harjit Sajjan is a Sikh, a man with brown skin, a full beard, and a turban. He’s also Canada’s Defence Minister.
An unnamed member of Canada’s Conservative Party posted a Facebook message with a photo of Sajjan and the caption, “This is what happens when you have a cabinet based on affirmative action.”
I haven’t heard much opposition to affirmative action recently. (Clearly, I move in different circles from the person who posted the message.)
Affirmative action is a process for righting past wrongs. For admitting more Black or indigenous students to universities, because they were previously discriminated against. For hiring more visible minorities on police forces. For promoting more women to management positions.
Unfortunately, affirmative action can’t help penalizing someone else. I remember my own anger when a friend told me not to bother applying for a position at the CBC for which I was well qualified, “because we’re only hiring women as announcers these days.”
Forty years later, all the broadcasting networks have women announcers. And program hosts. Producers and directors too. There’s no need for affirmative action in that field anymore.
Unequal treatment, still
The same cannot be said for politics. So when newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in 2015 that his cabinet would be 50 per cent female, there was shock. Fear that cabinet members would be appointed for their gender, not their competence.
In fact, Trudeau’s affirmative action didn’t stop with gender equality. He also included non-Caucasians in his cabinet. Among them, Harjit Sajjan, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
The Conservative party’s Facebook post reveals that some of its members still object to affirmative action. In this case, on a racial basis.
The writer, identified in the local paper only as a “young man,” apologized profusely. He told the paper, “I’m begging you, don’t publish my name, but let me tell my side of the story.”
His side suggests that he had a legitimate beef against Sajjan’s federal Defence Department – a $337,000 Canadian Forces flight to Europe on which VIP’s on board were allegedly drunk and abusive to flight attendants. But by phrasing his complaint as a slur against an individual of another race and religion, the writer brought down on himself the wrath of the politically correct.
“I didn’t intend it to be racist,” the man told the newspaper, “but in hindsight I can see how people saw it as racist.”
Politically correct language
Let me be perfectly clear on this – I endorse politically correct language. I do not consider it an infringement of free speech.
I did not always feel that way. At one time, I ridiculed inclusive language. I even wrote a Christmas play in which Joseph came racing on stage, shouting, “Hallelujah! Unto us a child is born! It’s a girl!”
But then my business partner, Ralph Milton, leaned on me. And I discovered that the problem with inclusive language was not that it was wrong, or restrictive. The problem was the clumsiness of most people’s efforts to avoid masculine images and pronouns.
For years, Ralph and I published books that were totally gender neutral. No awkward his-or-hers, he/she, “person-hole” or “person-kind” constructions. No references God as “Him” or to the church as “She.”
Then a woman congratulated Ralph on “not using that silly inclusive language.” It was so inclusive, it had become invisible.
Second thoughts before first words
Politically correct language is, in fact, a process for learning to think differently. As long as people can get away with referring to other humans as niggers, gooks, or broads, they will continue to hold negative images of those individuals.
Changing their words won’t change those mental images. But every time someone has to stop and think before uttering a potentially offensive description, that person has to recognize how those words might offend.
Granted, the politically-correct-language police can themselves be offensive. Self-righteous, even. But like affirmative action, they serve a short-term purpose. Once racist and sexist terms become unacceptable, the language police are no longer needed.
So I argue that the man who posted the Facebook remark about Harjit Sajjan deserved the abuse heaped on his posting. He may not like Sajjan. He may distrust Sajjan. He may not have thought his words overstepped any bounds. He may even have thought he was being clever.
But the next time he’s tempted to show other Conservatives how smart and sassy he can be, he will probably think twice. And will choose his words more carefully.
And that’s the sole purpose of political correctness.
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week I borrowed some lines from John Milton to connect with the loss of the town of Paradise to California forest fires.
Bob Rollwagen joined me in blaming humans for climate change: “What has happened in Paradise, California will bring a new respect to the meaning of “evacuation notice” for those that feel they can fight nature on their own. The pictures are horrific. Total incineration. Yes, they will rebuild. But will they have learned anything or will they just rebuild and continue to believe the myth that humans did not create this catastrophe, while creating many more. Each one seems to be getting bigger. This is an historic trend.”
At one point, I called the story of Eden, which portrays the early earth as paradise, “fictional.” Dave Buckna took exception: “To say the story of the Garden of Eden is ‘fictional’ is your belief [but] there are many others who believe the story of the Garden of Eden actually happened.”
Dave also dared me to publish an excerpt from a speech by Frank Peretti mocking evolution: “The first thing you need to know, boys and girls, above all else, is that 'You are an accident!'. You have absolutely no reason for being here! There is no meaning, no purpose to your life! You're nothing but a meaningless conglomeration of molecules that came together purely by chance billions of years ago! All the dust and the gas and the galaxy floated around for who knows how long, and they bumped into each other and they said, 'I know. Let's be organic!' So they became organic. And they became little, little gooey, slimey things, you know, swimming around in the primordial soup, and they finally grew little feet, and they crawled up on the land, and they grew fur and feathers and became higher forms of life, and finally became, you know, a monkey, then the monkey developed into an ape, then the ape decided to shave, so he shaved, and became what you are today! It's from goo to you by way of the zoo! As such we really don't have any reason for being here. Your existence is pointless. The universe won't mind a bit when you die. And when you die, you just become so much compost.”
But Steve Roney agreed with me about the Garden of Eden: “It seems to me obvious that this is actually a description of early childhood. When we are very small, the world as we experience it is pretty wonderful. This is why the ‘original sin’ applies to each one of us: we all committed it.
“But it is also then perfectly reasonable to project the scene back in time to human beginnings. This is a way to say it is universal and inherent in the human condition.
“And it must also be faithful to the reality. At some time, somewhere, it must have happened for the first time. And when it did, all the circumstances would have been the same.”
Doug Giles had comments to add about my Remembrance Day column, two weeks ago: “Once again Jim, you make excellent points. Both my parents and my grandparents fought in those two great wars. My grandfather was gassed in the trenches and lost the use of his left arm in WWI. My father was wounded in Sicily in WWII. That probably saved his life because the wound won him a ticket back to England. These men came back with legs and arms missing and were just expected to get on with life. Those back home had to adjust to the new reality. My mother was a riveter. Her husband came back damaged. Post traumatic stress disorder wasn't really recognized until the Vietnam war.
“I grew up in a world where artificial limbs were common and these men and women just had to get on with life. I can't even imagine what it was like for those living in the destroyed cities of Europe and Asia. The war was an ever-present reality for my parents and their friends. It affected how they saw the world and to a lesser extent how I see the world.
“I imagine community PTSD can't even begin to be overcome until the second or third generation.”
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet