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Human rights and history

During my training workshops on workplace discrimination, harassment and violence participants often express interest in the topic of “political correctness.”

Image: Author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known under his pen name, Mark Twain.  Read more: www.cbc.ca

Image: Author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known under his pen name, Mark Twain. Read more: www.cbc.ca

A Toronto Star article published about a month ago caught my eye— “New edition removes racial slur from Mark Twain’s books“. I eagerly read the article because it sure sounded like it may be about political correctness. Sure enough, it was! They are planning to replace the word nigger with the word slave.

Yosie noticed the article too and blogged about it from her perspective. I, like Yosie, am offended that this publisher wants to alter an important era in history by removing a word that was commonly used in everyday language during the period.

I was recently taken to task by a workshop participant because I used the reference “N-word” during a training session. He asked, “Why do we try to camouflage that word?”

I didn’t have a really good answer. The question caused me to stop and reflect on my attitudes and how I may influence others by conveying those attitudes while delivering training. “I don’t want to offend anyone” was one possible answer. “I want you to invite me back” —I am self-employed after all.

This reflection reminded me of another workshop where I used the word “faggot” while trying to make a point about the use of offensive words. A participant of that workshop complained to me that I could have made my point without using the offensive word.

Yet another memory I have is the time when someone asked me, “What exactly IS the ‘N’ word.” She really didn’t know what I was talking about.

So, you never know. You never know just what will offend a person or on the other hand when an attempt at political correctness will in fact be offensive to a person.

From all of this I have learned that an ongoing and open dialogue on the topic of human rights and political correctness is needed in the workplace.

I have learned that “camouflaging” words like nigger and faggot is just as offensive to some people as the use of the words themselves. It is wrong when these, and similar, words are used to deliberately attack or belittle an individual or identified group; it is not wrong to talk about these words.

Remember that if we don’t remember history we are destined to repeat it.

P.S. I am reading a mystery novel by Jeffrey Deaver. The author uses the word “crip” in reference to persons with disabilities. You never know.

Andrew Lawson
Learn don’t Litigate
www.learndl.ca
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Andrew Lawson

Trainer and advisor at Learn Don't Litigate
Andrew Lawson is a human rights and health and safety trainer and advisor, currently consulting to both the federal and Ontario governments. Since 1996, he has conducted extensive legal research in the areas of human rights and occupational health and safety law. He has worked in the people management business for over 25 years. Read more
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