I use the term lip-cuff to describe the lip equivalent of handcuff. Lip-cuffing is used by the Political Correctness Police Force (PCPF) to silence people when the crime is a statement that the PCPF deem to be politically incorrect. The newish cool term that the PCPF use to describe politically incorrect behaviour is microaggression. Microaggressive speakers are shamed into lip-cuffed silence, even when the speakers have no intention of insulting anyone.
For example, a member of the PCPF recently lipcuffed the British Prime Minister for using the term “swarm” to describe the numbers of African refugees who are trying to reach Britain. The collective noun swarm is apparently insulting because it’s commonly used to describe insects, not people. There’s a huge bunch of Australians who should be concerned. They’re at serious risk of being lip-cuffed for consistently referring to groups of people as flowers, fruit (as in ‘a bunch of grapes’) and vegies (as in ‘a bunch of carrots’).
I believe that we should voice our disgust at hate speech, racist comments and the denigration of decent, exemplary people. But, too many people are lipcuffed by the PCPF for apparently racist comments when, in fact, the interpretation is seriously stretched and the speakers’ intentions are clearly innocent.
3 recent examples of lip-cuffing
Just the other day I overheard an assistant in a Zara store trying to describe a customer to her colleague.
Assistant 1: So, when the customer returns, please call me straight away.
Assistant 2: How will I know who she is?
Assistant 1: She’s returning the black cashmere sweater.
Assistant 2: What does she look like?
Assistant 1: She’s tall and slim.
2 minutes later and still on the topic of how to recognise the customer:
Assistant 1, coy and hesitant: Well, you could think that she might have been born, in, say, a country in Africa.
Assistant 2: Got it.
Assistant 1 and 2 never referred to the customer as a black person, probably for fear of ‘microagression’ backlash and a lip-cuffing by the PCPF.
Recently I heard a member of the PCPF on talkback radio complaining about a tradesman’s “racism”. The caller, a caucasian (it’s okay to say ‘caucasian’ – I think) woman, lives in a wealthy, homogenously caucasian, Sydney suburb. Her surname is Zhang.
When the tradesman arrived, he asked the caucasian woman at the door, Mrs Zhang, if he could speak to Mr or Mrs Zhang. It was apparently out of “sheer racism” that he assumed that Mrs Zhang was of ‘Asian appearance’ and that the caucasian person at the door was not the expected Chinese Mrs Zhang. And so, the tradesman was lip-cuffed on charges of microaggression. The radio host agreed. The tradie was racist and microaggressive.
Similarly, not long ago I was lipcuffed a dinner party.
About ten of us – Babyboomers, Gen X’s and Millenials – were discussing how pre-schoolers tend not to identify people by race.
Me, naively: “Well, Samantha was about three years old when her mother asked her if her playmate, Li Ling, was Chinese. Samantha said an emphatic no, but when Li Ling arrived a little later for a playdate …. “ I demonstrated Li-Ling’s epicanthic folds by pulling at my temples to give her eyes the distinctive Chinese shape.
In stepped the PCPF!
Gen X, angry: “That action that you just did is racist! That’s racist and I’m totally offended!”
Millenial, even angrier than Gen X: “Yes, that’s racist. I’m thoroughly offended.”
Millenial’s mum, emphatic and redhot angry: “Millenial doesn’t see race. He went to a public school, so he doesn’t see race. He doesn’t have private school values (implication = “like your children”), so he doesn’t see racial differences!”
Me to Millenial’s mum and the PCPF: “I’m sorry that you’re offended, but I don’t believe that the action’s racist because my intention wasn’t racist. The point is that until they reach a certain developmental level, children don’t use distinctive physical traits to categorise people, but they do at school age. And, if your son, Millenial, doesn’t see physical differences between people, he probably needs an optometrist.”
The remaining guests were resoundingly PCPF- complicit in their silence. It goes without saying that the offense was mutual, and the evening didn’t go well.
PCPF members often confuse microaggression with category-formation
Microaggression is often confused with the essentiall human tendency to form categories. We humans are prewired to assign things in our world to groups. For example, instead of remembering the details for each dog that they see, even very young children can class furry things that wag their tails and run after tennis balls as belonging to the category: Dog. And, it goes without saying that children form more and more categories as they get older. Toddlers can often form categories by about 16-18 months of age. They may notice sex differences, and then at about school age, they can categories people on the basis of skin colour. It’s not that they judge others on the basis of race. Category-formation and valued judgements are not the same thing. Is it a valued, racist judgment to predict that caucasian (no offense intended) Mrs. Zhang is not Chinese?
Category formation is a very important aspect of human cognitive development because it enables us to reduce the number of details that we have to remember. With the resultant increase in memory space, we can store more new information. Because category formation is so important to human intelligence, all good intelligence tests include an assessment of it in their packages.
While the PCPF may want to lip-cuff people for forming categories even when there’s no intended valued judgment in them, the truth is that all intelligent humans form categories, whether consciously or not. Sometimes, the categories are based on a person’s physical appearance, like skin colour or eye shape. Sometimes a huge group of humans on the move are collectively described by the adjective “swarm”. And, if you live in Australia, you could be categorised as a “bunch” of people.
If the intention is obviously not racist, the statements needn’t be construed as microaggressive, and the PCPF can and should relax.
Names, locales, people and incidents have been fictitiously created by the author. Any resemblance to actual people, places or individuals is completely coincidental.