Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Wednesday Factoid: Generational Misunderstandings

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What do older generations misunderstand about yours?

There are a ton of misunderstandings about my generation on the part of my parents' generation, and I doubt I could really go into everything, but one of the ones that steams me the most is this idea that we are oversensitive and "politically correct," and that this represents an issue of entitlement on our part rather than on theirs.

What I usually hear is that the generations before mine are tired of people being ~so sensitive~ about, say, sexist or racist jokes, bigoted comments, nasty terminology that has been phased out for a reason, or proper accommodation for disabilities and illnesses. And while they usually suggest asking them to change is baffling or unfair or pointless, I think it just says they're from a world where others were less visible to them.

My generation and those that have come after mine have had more everyday contact with global perspectives and populations we might not have otherwise, while people in previous generations usually only knew about these issues if they were world travelers or specialized in the issues unique to certain populations--or if they were members of said populations themselves. Now that the Internet has connected us with so many previously invisible-to-majority-culture groups and individuals, "we" are learning in detail how those folks would like to be talked about, included, and regarded. We are learning these things from them, and they are finding more resources to develop consensus about it, because of the interconnectedness of Internet culture.

It's not perfect now, of course, but it's getting better, and when I hear a member of an older generation bemoan the "PC culture," I have to shake my head. What I hear is their desire to return to thoughtlessly bigoted perspectives--when they didn't have to feel bad about not considering others and didn't have to look at people who were victimized by or inconvenienced by their attitudes. Now that they're being asked to be inclusive and to change attitudes or terminology they may have used without question for years, some are quick to cry victim. This almost always sounds like "things were simpler in my day."

Things weren't simpler back then. They just didn't know that people had these problems or what they wanted, and it did not occur to them to seek out their perspectives. Now that tools have developed to make visibility and discussion more accessible, I'm hearing ridiculous comments that imply the identities, issues, and attitudes were literally invented for the Internet at the very time that tools were invented to see them. People with disabilities have always wanted more accessibility in various aspects of their lives, for instance, but the traditional crowd who doesn't want to change ends up saying "oh come on now--we didn't have to think about that back in my day! What's next, [some ridiculous slippery slope argument that does NOT represent where this is going]?" That's actually kind of the point. You didn't have to think about it in your day; therefore you did not; therefore this group suffered under inaccessible resources. Generalize this to issues associated with sexual orientation, race, gender, and more, and you will certainly see examples of people resisting on the grounds that they never had to think about this before and don't want to start now--therefore, the people who have always wanted this change are unreasonable, and this is a consequence of being from an "overly PC" generation.

Obviously people from my generation and younger also do this--that is, they whine about having to be politically correct and exaggerate the difficulty and intensity of what people are asking them to change. And obviously people from my parents' generation and before do not all do this. (I shouldn't have to type that to avoid people scurrying to my comments to defend their generation, but here we are.) But the fact remains that generations before mine tend to use "gosh, these minorities weren't so darn uppity in my day--why can't we go back to that Golden Era?" as an excuse to categorize later generations as unreasonable.

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