Monday, November 24, 2003

Evil to them that think evil

The County of Los Angeles has notified all equipment vendors that do business with the city that "based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County," labeling or describing equipment with the term 'master/slave' is no longer acceptable. By convention, for instance, the primary hard drive on an IDE channel is the master, and the secondary is the slave, denoting that the control path is unidirectional. The implication that this convention is in some way insensitive is absurd... definitely a misplaced application of 'politically correct'.

We've seen this before, of course. In 1999 David Howard, a staffer working for the mayor of Washington DC, lost his job after using the word 'niggardly' in its appropriate context, regarding the miserly dispersal of a fund. And around the same time, University of Wisconsin student Amelia Rideau was so upset when her professor used the same word that she left the classroom in tears. Even after the professor explained to her what the word meant, she demanded that UW implement a speech code which would punish anyone using what she described as 'offensive' language. She even urged the university not to require proof of intent, i.e. to punish professors who make remarks that are perceived to be offensive even when no offense is intended. Fortunately, the University chose to handle this in a sane manner a few months later when they became the first University to voluntarily repeal a faculty speech code that allowed any student who was made uncomfortable by something a professor said to sue the institution. Commenting on the University's decision, author Jonathan Rauch said "In a free society all of us have an obligation to be thick-skinned. We have a First Amendment not because we like offensive speech, but because we disagree on what's offensive."

The part that really gets me is that an ignorant knee-jerk reaction actually reinforces the negative stereotypes more than the supposed insult does. I don't think that people need to tolerate racism; in fact, I think that any racism that can't be eradicated through education should be eradicated through litigation. (I believe it would be even better to have a society that was inherently and self-maintainingly free of such bias, but I'm not so naive as to believe that's ever going to happen, especially in a country that was founded on slavery). But spurious claims of racism based on the ignorance of the supposed 'victims' is just another way to breed hatred under the guise of 'correct' behavior.