Exactly what is “correct” in regards to behavior isn’t an explicit ruleset. Striking the balance between correction, over-correction, and under-correction is complex, but the concept of showing respect to groups we aren’t a part of is simple. At the end of the day, the underlying concept is respect.
What is Acceptable for the In-Group is Not Necessarily Correct for the Out-Group
What is acceptable (aka politically correct) depends on your environment, intention, tone, and the group you belong to. What is acceptable in one group, might not be in another. This is true in terms of behavior, and specifically the language we use.
As a rule of thumb, groups that have historically been oppressed tend to be more sensitive, especially when the language is used by those they perceive as their former or current oppressors. As to what extent we are sensitive to this as a society, and to what degree this is appropriate, is handled on our pages on the term “politically correct“.
An individual’s “correct” behavior isn’t about what a person thinks, an ingrained bias, an ideology, or what they say to a close friend. It is about how a person treats other groups and the language they use when addressing that group, or an individual in that group, or when speaking publicly.
It isn’t that we should limit our speech, it is more that we should act as if we were “a stranger in a strange land” when addressing those outside our circle. Although correctness can become a slippery slope when enforced by society or the state, the underlying theme of showing respect to “out-groups” is an important one.A Brief History of White Privilege, Racism and Oppression in America | Legalize Democracy excerpt. A quick history lesson.
TIP: A group or person doesn’t have to be oppressed to feel oppressed. People sometimes react based on bias and perception, rather than cold hard fact. Respect is about jumping in the other person’s shoes, and using empathy to understand their viewpoint, before expressing yours.
What is Acceptable Language and Behavior?
There is no mathematical equation for what is appropriate language or behavior and what isn’t (with some obvious exceptions). Sometimes groups will speak clearly; sometimes culture makes it clear, but generally people need to listen and communicate to understand what is appropriate and what isn’t.
When in doubt, and morals aren’t being compromised, it is generally a good idea to give the benefit of the doubt to the group being oppressed. It’s a matter of courtesy, not a matter of conceding one’s viewpoints.
Justifications aside, here are two simple rules to follow:
- If you are talking to your in-group (a social science term that means “group you are a part of” ideologically and culturally), in a closed setting, then “dark-humor” may be acceptable and understood. Or, it may not. Each group has its own vibe and rules, and these are rarely explicitly stated.
- When talking to an out-group (a group you aren’t a part of), or are referring to an in-group without being part of it, the rules of acceptability change. But again, the rules are rarely overtly stated, and correct behavior relies on self-calibration.
TIP: On the flip side of this, oppressed groups have to be realistic in what they expect from others. Most people believe “they aren’t biased,” considering our whole cognitive process is a system of biases, we can see how people butt heads over this. Also, oppressed groups should take care not to be “useful innocents” for a cause that promotes “totalitarianism with a happy face.”The Concept of Language (Noam Chomsky). To understand why people can’t agree on a concept, it helps to grasp the complexity of language.
Why is it OK for One Person to say Something and not Another?
Appropriate behavior and speech is based on what group you belong to, not just an ideological group, but a group based on race, culture, gender, etc.
It goes like this: Q: Why can “they” say “that word” and “we” can’t. A: Because “you” aren’t part of “that” group.
The video below will handle the examples for me as I belong to the group upper-middle-class straight white male hipster blogger. The concepts of being a good ally and checking one’s privilege are clear; many things aren’t appropriate if said by those outside a group, especially one that has faced oppression (i.e. the point of this page).
Agree or disagree? Comments below.
TIP: Humor is one of the best ways to lighten the tension when discussing the taboo. But the line is a fine one, and many friendsand careers have been lost over misunderstanding the line. Always err on the side of respect and courtesy, find common ground, and then express your views from there.The N-Word “Double Standard”. It’s not a “double standard” it’s simply a matter of nuance and understanding. To understand the history of a term is to understand how to use taboo language
“This is a regular occurrence. It’s a matter in-group versus out-group dynamics. So when you’re a member of a certain group, there are things that are totally okay and socially acceptable when you’re in that group. And for people outside of that group, you give them a side eye and it’s just not okay.” – Everydayfeminism.com