Political correctness often gets a bad rap. Liberals, conservatives and everyone in between have knocked this form of decorum, labeling its proponents as disingenuous and uninformed. But in a society where people of diverse backgrounds frequently interact, racial sensitivity is paramount. Never has it been more important to counteract racist behavior by distinguishing politically correct terms from racist terms or knowing the proper way to respond to a racist joke. Developing racial and cultural awareness can give one the tools necessary to navigate a number of situations in life—at work or in a social setting.
The American lexicon is filled with slang, but some colloquialisms are best avoided. Not only are they frowned upon, they're also considered racially offensive. Racist terms have been included in the American vocabulary for so long that many who use them are clueless about their offensive origins. If you want to avoid inadvertently hurting someone with your language, find out what the offending expressions and why to retire them from your vocabulary at once. Politicans, journalists and Hollywood starlets are among those who've famously put their feet in their mouth by using expressions with racist roots.
Ever wonder which term is the appropriate one to use when describing a member of an ethnic minority group? How do you know if you should refer to someone as “black,” “African American,” “Afro American” or something else entirely? Better yet, how should you proceed when members of the same ethnic group have different preferences for what they’d like to be called? While some racial terms remain up for debate, others are considered outdated, derogatory or both and, thus, best not leave your mouth. Find out which racial names to avoid when describing people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
It’s long been said that naming something gives one power over it. When it comes to people, however, it may not always be a good idea to call someone a racist. Perhaps a person makes a remark or does something that screams textbook “racist” to you. But the person in question will very likely disagree, making your decision to identify him as such backfire. Fortunately, other strategies exist to deal with racism than dropping the R-word. Labeling another person racist typically backfires because it results in defensiveness and insincere apologies, among other questionable behaviors.
Comedians from Chris Rock to Margaret Cho to Jeff Foxworthy have carved out a niche for themselves by making jokes about people who share their cultural heritage. But just because these comics play up cultural differences in their standup routines doesn't mean that the average Joe should attempt to follow suit. Unfortunately, ordinary people try their hand at racial humor all the time and fail, dredging up racist stereotypes in the name of comedy. So, how do you respond if a friend, family member or colleague makes a racist joke? It's no one's job to give another person a crash course in racial sensitivity, but you can let the joke-teller know that you don't find racial jokes amusing without turning into the politically correct police.
Because Americans from different ethnic groups still have much to learn about each other, the workplace is often home to racially offensive behavior. Sometimes colleagues unintentionally make racial gaffes, and other times racial prejudice is clearly to blame for bad behavior at work. Whatever the culprit, it’s in every employee’s interest to avoid culturally inappropriate behaviors in the workplace. Unfortunately, not every workplace provides racial sensitivity training, leaving some employees clueless as to what political correctness is.