Sunday, May 13, 2007

political correctness

i've been reading a bit today about political correctness. it's an interesting expression, because in my understanding it is predominantly used to silence those who feel that it's not OK to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc, and who are sensitive to more subtle forms of unintended prejudice. Something like that.

Jan said something interesting a few weeks ago, though. She said "political correctness is all about what language white people can use, e.g. multiculturalism". I realised that it is about creating a comfortable language, rather than facing discomfort. jan uses "women of colour" partly because of the discomfort it induces in white women - we are forced to confront privilege, and we are excluded.

quite a bit of what i read is written by people who think that political correctness equals the right language. i get so pissed with "right on" language. what interests me so much more with language is its use, its fluidity, its context-based meaning. that is, people use language to communicate, and we communicate a lot more than what a dictionary can possible capture.

when jan calls herself a woman of colour, she's not just describing her gender and skin colour, or her ethnic background, (in what I understand) she's claiming solidarity with other women of colour, naming "colouredness" as a grounds for shared experience, in contrast with women who are white, as well as naming woman-of-colour-edness as a grounds for shared experience. she's rejecting the framing of her identity within categories that are constructed in ways that fail to capture her experience of the world. she is choosing her own frame, one that is not controlled by the white patriarchy, or white feminists, or any status-quo lovers; one that does not carry a normalising burden, or a set of images; one that she brings from her American upbringing, into a new context, offering it, but not imposing it (partly through an inability to impose her definitions on anyone, but primarily through no desire to define anyone else). woman of colour seems to be working for jan in creating some community to inhabit where her gendered and racialised experiences of the world are validated, discussed, shared, contrasted, made meaning of.

the other day, another of the trainees at WIRE argued with Jan that she doesn't see Jan as coloured, that she sees Jan as white like her. this is exactly the sort of experience where calling herself a "woman of colour" is useful. it's a conscious, self-loving, self-defining label.

she retains control of the label, well, actually she shares it with other self-identifying women of colour.

hey jan. tell me if i'm missing something, or if i am understanding you properly. xx