In a time when satire circulates the internet at breakneck speeds, and reality moves closer to self-parody, I must confess I have a harder time than ever before distinguishing between examples of real-life absurdity and the work aiming to mock that very foolishness.
That was the case this week when the student union of my alma mater, Western University in London, Ont., unveiled its “language awareness campaign” for the school’s orientation week, with the goal of fostering respect and civility among new students.
The campaign features a number of black-and-white posters showcasing grim-looking students beside a quote explaining why the depicted pupil has eliminated a certain turn of phrase from their vocabulary.
Many of the words on the list are words that most would agree are offensive, such as “fag” and “retard.” But the whole campaign, in my view, is discredited by the suggested scrapping of words of little consequence to any sensible person.
One young lady won’t say “I was ‘blind’ to something” because “it ignores the experiences of differently abled individuals.”
“Man up” is off-limits, because, after all, we can’t impart the idea that “masculinity (is) innately superior.” Invariably, “grow a pair” is also out.
Among my favourites are the new bans on “white washed” (it’s racist) and “ratchet,” which apparently is “racist, classist and sexist.”
I had no idea there needed to be a trigger warning for the latter, but after jumping down a digital rabbithole of microaggressions and militant political correctness, I learned that the word apparently has roots in a neighbourhood in a Louisiana town, where it was once used to describe working class black women.
Thank goodness Western has no automotive classes: I would hate to be the student inadvertently running afoul of the guidelines for asking his classmate to borrow a ratchet, ignorant to the plight of the poor women of the Bayou.
Also banned: “insane,” “crazy,” “gingers” (although I’m pretty sure those three are synonymous), “bossy,” “lame,” “depressing,” “skinny,” “gypped,” “slaving away,” and “freak.”
Every one of the posters is accompanied by a “trigger warning,” lest even a glimpse of one of these words sends one of Western’s precious snowflakes into an emotional tailspin.
The campaign’s Facebook page also includes contact information for crisis centres and emergency responders—for the extremely unsettled.
Underscoring this is a commitment to making Western a “safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all identities.”
Most of the words on the—TRIGGER WARNING!—blacklist would not be used in polite company anyway, for reasons of once-common sense.
Forget about microaggressions. These words are but tropes and clichés, which makes their usage far more offensive, in my view, as a writer.
Uttering “that’s so gay” to express disdain? How pedestrian. (Apologies for the classism associated with maligning those unable to afford motorized transport.)
Most of these words are of little consequence to a sensible person.
But herein lies the crux of microaggressions: the microaggressor needn’t have any ill intent, so long as the recipient feels offended.
This is by no means new to university campuses, but it is surprising for Western, the school that refused to cave, in 2010, when administrators were called upon to cancel Ann Coulter’s speech—the first of three across Canada—at the school.
It went off without a hitch, despite an absence of trigger warnings.
Then again, what do I know? I’m just a white, heteronormatively heterosexual, privileged, cisgender male.
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