Political correctness has made me afraid to ask a simple question

What can I say?

In Serra Hamilton’s First Person essay in The Globe and Mail, Working With The Public Is No Picnic, Hamilton claims to love her job as a Guest Experience Leader at McDonald’s but she balks at people assuming her Asian features put into question whether she belongs in this country. I now question one of my favourite activities. Is it now politically incorrect to ask someone where they’re from? I have always loved starting conversations with strangers in the lineup at the grocery store or eating my sushi in the food court at the mall. I’ve met fascinating people and loved hearing their stories.

The other day at the dentist’s office, I was escorted into the examining room by a masked lady with beautiful grey-blue eyes. Her Eastern European accent prompted me to ask if she was Ukrainian, thinking I could connect with her and express my sympathy for her country’s current tragedy. As it turns out, she was Polish but she hesitated before she answered my question. Should I no longer be asking people where they’re from?

Canada is rich with a diversity of cultures and ethnicities.

Immigrants take great pride in acquiring Canadian citizenship. It’s a special and valuable gift. I can understand their resentment at being asked where they’re from when their accent betrays the fact they may not have been born in Canada. Then, there are the born-in-Canada offspring of immigrants who have physical characteristics that may lead others to think they hail from Asia, the Philippines, or an African country. If I were in their shoes, I would also probably resent the question.

The thing is, when I ask someone where they’re from, I’m doing so because I am genuinely curious about their life experiences and I have no hidden agenda. People who were born in other countries have rich histories that we Canadians can learn from if we take the time to investigate and listen to their stories. All of us come from families who immigrated to Canada at one time regardless of the colour of our skin or physical features.

Netflix has recently taken a stand against extreme political correctness. After years of dealing with whining, overly-sensitive woke employees who objected to every controversial program the network aired, they have dug in their heels with what I think is an overdue and appropriate response. Ted Sarandos, C.E.O. at Netflix issued a statement to the effect that viewers decide what they want to watch and if they do not like a certain comedian or program, they can change the channel. He offers employees the same option. If you do not like the way we do business, then you are free to leave and work somewhere more in sync with your values. Otherwise, let us do our job. Freedom of expression is still a freedom.

Delivering any kind of broad message through any kind of media means there will be people who have a different point of view and may object to your position. Many people today avoid that dilemma by picking their team and watching Fox News or CNN, depending on their personal perspective. That’s what freedom of speech and choice are about. Recognizing the necessity for some safety rules such as restrictions on inciting hate or violence, we benefit from being able to hear both sides of a story. Then, we are able to form intelligent opinions.

When I ask about your ancestry it’s because I am genuinely interested in your story.

Pushback is growing from businesses, entertainers, and ordinary citizens about the growing influence of overly zealous demonstrations of political correctness. It’s like we’re all walking on eggshells, afraid we may offend someone with a simple question like Where are you from? A friend suggested I ask What’s your ancestry? as a safer alternative.

Disney Corporation is up to their ass in alligators these days about whether to enter the fray surrounding Florida’s ridiculously outdated and wrong-headed (sorry – in my opinion!) new laws about gay rights. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

At some point, we have to take a stand against what we genuinely think is wrong and what we’re being forced to accept as the new way of doing things in an overly politically correct world. While I understand Serra Hamilton’s concerns about how other people view her ethnicity in the course of doing her job at McDonald’s, I’m uncomfortable with how far the issue of political correctness and mass victimization is being stretched.

Are we losing all sense of perspective because we’re being too constrained? At what point will this giant rubber band snap and bite us all in the ass? As basic rights are being further restricted in the United States, we have to consider the rights of everyone, not just the most vocal. Even though we still have a lot of work to do toward human rights and freedoms, we’ve made so much progress. Let’s not blow it. Now, more than ever, we need to hear both sides of every story—not just the black and white versions, but the grays as well. That’s what democracy is all about.





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