Cultural Sensitivity in Wording Now a Legal Necessity
While many oppose the concept of "political correctness," in some senses it is now a legal necessity. And what is deemed culturally sensitive seems to be changing, sometimes in controversial ways. While many oppose the concept of "political correctness," in some senses it is now a legal necessity. And what is deemed culturally sensitive seems to be changing, sometimes in controversial ways.
Consider the case of certain teachers, who have been disciplined and even terminated for quoting the words used in a legal case, for example, or even citing speeches by Martin Luther King. Many cases now suggest use of the "N" word in any context, whether a quotation from something else or not, warrants strong disciplinary action. In a recent example, a case involving an Emory law professor who was terminated for using a quotation from a legal case, the termination was overturned by a faculty committee, and the American Association of University Professors' made efforts to support the professor. The situation gets more complex where certain affected groups may use discriminatory language towards their own class members, who do not consider such language offensive since it is directed to themselves. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) takes the position that offensive words used even among a protected class is prohibited and applies equally to everyone.
It is quite questionable now to use the term "you people," for example, to refer to anyone. The term "boy" has been found in several rulings to be racially offensive and thus discriminatory, but a recent case finds the word "good boy" not to be inappropriate. Brown v. Dignity Health, 2020 BL 229178, D. Ariz., 6/19/20. This writer recently had occasion to address the Supreme Court's recent transgender ruling, when an issue arose about the use of the word "queer." Apparently, young homosexuals or transgender persons and others like to describe themselves and use the term "queer," while the older generation finds the word to be highly offensive. Even terms like Black, African-American, Hispanic, Latin, Asian, and others are sometimes debated as to appropriateness.
The bottom line is that everyone must be extremely careful with the words they use. It simply is not worth the risk of offending someone by the use of terms that may be considered inappropriate. Perhaps "cultural sensitivity" is not the proper term, the concept is that one should avoid the risk of using words which may be offensive to some, i.e., "fighting words." Let's be tactful, and keep the best relationship possible with everyone.