On Being Politically Correct

Last night, in the first Presidential debate 2012, Barack Obama mentioned autism. He said something along the lines of, “families with an autistic child depend on Medicaid”. Which is true. I was encouraged that autism got a little mention in such a public venue…but my twitterfeed and timeline were chock full of people huffily correcting the president, not on the strength of his statement, or the truth of it, but on his phrasing.

Technically, the (current) politically correct term is ‘child with autism’, which exemplifies ‘person-first language’, a rule of thumb that always puts the person in the primary position of the phrase (i.e person who uses a wheelchair instead of ‘wheelchair bound’).

I see the point of person first language, just like I see the point of being careful about how we phrase gender things and race things. To me, the point of careful phrasing is to guide how we are supposed to THINK about abilities/gender/race in a better way, collectively. Correct phrasing is an ongoing prompt to transcend whatever prejudices I harbor.

It is a practice that everyone fails at sometimes. If we simple reduce ‘politically correct’ to another political pitfall then we have lost the point, the only good point, of a practice that becomes more like witch hunt every day.

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