It started innocently enough. In a group of writers I follow, a woman talked about a client who was treating her unfairly, and she used the expression “chew down” the price. While the phrase sounds reasonable enough, it is one of those phrases that is misheard and repeated incorrectly, like mute point (for moot point), cut off your nose despite your face (for to spite your face). The original is not so innocent–it’s an antisemitic slur: Jew down.
It’s based in the myth that Jews are all money lenders, own the banks and bargain mercilessly to get the lowest price. Like portraying Jews with big noses and rubbing their hands in anticipation, it is cruel, racist, and hurtful, all in addition to being untrue.
I left a comment that the phrase was a slur and should not be used. I explained why, politely. The results began to roll in. The first ones tried to make a joke of it. One person, (I’ll call him Bob), said, “If someone said that I Bobbed people down and got a good price, I’d feel honored.” This is called denying the issue and making the other person wrong by making the problem trivial.
The next person agreed with “Bob” and told me I was too sensitive and possibly too politically correct. Once more, I pointed out that a slur is a slur, and that political correctness was not the issue. Just because you aren’t familiar with a slur, or don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not a slur.
Then, quite suddenly, things got ugly. The politically correct flag was raised and saluted, and I was told I was “too sensitive,” “too easily offended over nothing,” and other phrases that diminished my emotion. There was considerable heat and scorn in the messages. Remember, these are professional writers. I’d like to think writers are curious and interested in life and in not making cultural blunders. I was mistaken.
All written, I might add, by people who, if they are using photos that represent them, are White Americans. A few identified as Christians. OK, so not in the slurred group. The anger shouldn’t have surprised me. When someone is called on their racism, the answer is always angry. Defensive. Attack-focused. That hides the embarrassment. The whole incident would have ended if someone had written, “I didn’t know about this, and I’ll stop using it.” End of story. But our story doesn’t end. We have to be right. Always.
If you are in a majority group, it is easy not to see slurs. You’ve got the history on your side, because the winners write the history books. If you are in the majority, it is easy to see the minority as “others.” This is how we got the non-existent War on Christmas and the push to love Donald Trump’s “saying what he thinks,” and calling insults “free speech against political correctness.”
I’m not out of the woods yet, but I have ended my part in the discussion. I pointed out what needed to be explained. I said it had nothing to do with political correctness, but my explanation was against diminishing an entire group of human beings. I’m not going to change the mind of the mob, but I am sad that it exists. And, of course, it votes. And I’m worried about that.
When telling people you have hurt that they don’t have a right to be hurt and expect them to obey you and recant their hurt, life becomes focused on a decision: you can stand up and be slapped down or you can live in fear. I hadn’t intended to start a hate-flinging discussion, but I know this: I’m not going to live in fear.
—Quinn McDonald believes in reason over anger, but she will take a stand for social justice wherever it appears. Even in professional groups.