Enjoying Free Speech in a "Woke" World
"Identity politics is a political approach wherein people of a particular gender, religion, race, social background, class or other identifying factors, develop political agendas that are based upon theoretical interlocking systems of oppression that may affect their lives and come from their various identities."
Though its goal to reduce prejudice is noble, there are strong signs that Identity Politics has created a world divided by social, gender and racial identities.
Traditional markers of historical oppression such as being female, dark skinned or gay are now expanded to. being unattractive, old, fat or disabled and other groups. Universities are at the forefront of efforts to increase diversity by increasing the list of groups deemed as oppressed or marginalized. They have created more than nineteen markers of oppression.
With Social Identity Play people can talk, or joke about their social identities and those of others without being too offended or causing an escalation of offense.
Any open discussion will often bring up issues of race, culture, gender, orientation, and other ‘hot button’ issues. With PREP communication guidelines, we try to create a safe container for participants to feel comfortable enough to communicate freely with others of differing political views, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations.
Free Speech PREP
PREP: Personal Responsibility Engendering Politeness.
1. Personal Responsibility
While a word or expression is offensive to one person that does not mean it is offensive to others of the same demographic or social identity. People of diverse backgrounds can speak from their personal experience. However, it is important to make the distinction between taking personal offense and taking offense on behalf of a group. 'Trigger Words' and 'micro-aggressions' are personal. They are not objective truths. It is the height of entitlement for anyone to claim to be a ‘spokesperson’ for their demographic.
Most stereotypes, jokes, ignorant comments, and criticisms of my race were often just other people's attempts at trying to understand my people rather than an automatic indicator of prejudice.
The advantage of taking personal responsibility when you are offended is that it allows you to tell a little bit why that word or phrase is hurtful to you. You can share an anecdote or a personal experience. Anything to your comfort level.
A person can easily bow out of a conversation while assuring the other participants that while they have a right to free speech, you have a personal right to leave a discussion.
Showing that you are taking responsibility for being offended is not accusatory as in "that's homophobic" or "that's racist". You are not lecturing or censoring them on what they can or cannot say in the future. You are simply saying why a particular word or phrase is hurtful to you.
When someone takes personal responsibility for being offended there is a different narrative based on subjectivity rather than the objective 'call-out" tone of Intersectionality. More often than not, this will engender a polite "I'm sorry" response than when someone feels they are being attacked as bigoted.
2. Personal Politeness
In most cultures, is natural and polite to not say something that is personally offensive to another. That is the essence of living in a civilized society.
Anyone is free to say what makes them feel personally uncomfortable. As culture that strives to be a polite community of individuals, we adopt a policy of personal politeness and respect for individual feelings.
Being polite does not mean that one needs to feel accused or censored. An offensive phrase to one person may not be so to another. For example, the word 'bitch' can be offensive to some women. To others it is not. If someone is offended by that word, they can speak up about their personal offense giving as much personal reasoning as they feel comfortable with sharing. One woman might hate the word because it was what an abusive partner called her. Another person, of any gender, might love using the word as part of their erotic talk.
Once it is known that a word is personally offensive, most polite people would not use the word when in the presence of the offended person. However, when they are with other friends, they can use the word again without any feeling of guilt. This is a much better outcome than feeling censored for ever using that word based on one person's offense.
The subtle distinctions between politeness, personal responsibility and free speech allows a diverse group of participants to feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing their views.
Micro-Aggressions & Trigger Words
When we separate the personal from the ‘tribal’, it becomes easier to have honest conversations. It is humble and polite to say you’re personally offended. It is the height of ego to be offended on behalf of a certain group whether you are from that group or not.
This can be more challenging if you are not from the group being joked about, yet being offended based on your perceived feelings and sensitivities of that group.
An accusation of prejudice is serious. In today's world, it can have social, economic, and even legal consequences.
Implying prejudice when offended is a great censor of free speech. It can also create animosity and opposite outcomes. If a person feels accused of being prejudiced, they might hang out with others who do the same. Right wing populism is growing in US & Europe as a reaction.
JISC: Jokes, Ignorance, Stereotypes, Criticism
- Jokes. If a person makes a joke at the expense of another’s demographic it can be deemed as prejudiced but is not necessarily so. (What about if the joke is really funny?
- Ignorance. If a person makes a comment that shows complete ignorance of another’s demographic it can be deemed as prejudiced but is not necessarily so. (You would be surprised at how little people know about each other.
- Stereotypes. If a person points out a stereotypical pattern of another’s demographic it can be deemed as prejudiced but is not necessarily so. (And what if a stereotype whether positive or negative, has merit?
- Criticism. If a person criticizes some aspect of another’s demographic it can be deemed as prejudiced but is not necessarily so. (And what if there is some truth to the criticism?
Negative Intent versus Negative Impact
An important key that defines prejudice is negative intent. Of course, negative intent is hard to prove. However, as we get to know people we can easily ascertain their intent if they continue to make comments that are critical, joking, or show ignorance of a demographic group.
SISC: Social Identity Sensitivity Check
Everyone has different social identities. However, each person has different sensitivities based on those identities. Sensitivity often depends on situations in their life that created an impact. A SISC reflection is simple. Look inside and see whether you're sensitivity is High, Low or Medium with each social identity that you feel part of.
For example ,a person who is gay and black might have had much more negative experiences with their orientation than their skin color. As such, they might be more sensitive with any JISC comments about their sexuality than their race.
As such each person is able to assign a number value of sensitivity to each social identity they feel part of. By creating SISC score, a person is able to control their own sensitivity while respecting the individuality of others.
SISC allows adults to negotiate their personal and political sensitivities with each other. Every individual can share a single number for others to know the level of sensitivity they have about Jokes, Ignorance, Stereotypes or Criticism (JISC) with regards to any of their social identities.
With the Woke approach, the most sensitive member of any marginalized group can reset the community standard based on phrases and words that offend them. This is a call-out culture has no end. It becomes censorship smorgasbord with an ever-increasing list of forbidden words or phrases.
SISC allows for individual choice in setting their own Social Identity sensitivity standards and for consenting adults to negotiate their social identity boundaries with each other. This is much less divisive than call-out culture or group censorship.
Two people with a low SISC score could have a more open and wild discussion that could be politically incorrect. However, if one person had a higher SISC score, the other would have more awareness, sensitivity and compassion when communicating.
There is less judgement with SISC. We should all have compassion for someone who may have endured trauma or horrible experiences that led to a higher SISC score. The advantage of using a number is that each person is completely in control over how much more personal info they wish to share. A SISC score is enough.
RISC: Racial Identity Sensitivity Check
We also identify how and why we are offended on behalf of others. An RISC score allows us to make a distinction between personal offense or being offended on behalf of a racial group.