If you need training in recognising hate speech, it might be a waste of time

by Joanne Black / 06 June, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Hate speech

The Grand Dragon of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan. Photo/Getty Images

The problem with political correctness is that it alienates people who would otherwise be sympathetic. The latest flyer from my daughter’s high school invites parents, pupils and staff to a “workshop to learn how to recognise and counter hate speech and violence”. Training will be given in not only identifying the cause of hate and bias, but also “becoming an up-stander”.

To be honest, I was surprised that they thought there was a need for training in recognising hate speech and violence. It seems to imply that if you look hard enough, you will find it, though I am inclined to think that if you need to look too hard, then you should try looking in a different neighbourhood, because that might be where you are needed most.

But it is the offer to be trained in “becoming an up-stander” that made me just a little bit of an inside-dier and will ensure that I am a sitter-outer when this workshop is an around-comer. The difference between standing up and being an up-stander is semantically slight, yet changes the emphasis to being all about me, the up-stander, rather than about the action. Am I being an over-thinker? It is enough to make me want to become a language defender, which would make me a point misser.

One of the things I should have done before leaving New Zealand was to make a cardboard cut-out of myself to prop up at the celebrations of family milestones that will take place while I am here. Last year, I missed my son’s 21st and then his partner’s. It is odds-on that next year, I will miss my daughter’s 21st, too, and this week I missed my son’s graduation from Victoria University. I do not consider 21st birthdays or graduations a big deal, but each of these milestones sharpens my sense that time is passing, particularly in the lives of my children.

Time passes at the same rate for everyone, of course, except those hooked on White House politics, for whom this feels like it is going to be the longest four years in peacetime US history. I think that is partly because the President is occasionally tweeting before dawn, which can make a day feel like a week. It is exhausting and like living with a four-year-old.

Come to think of it, most days feel like that. It is only when the President or a four-year-old is asleep that you feel you do not need to be hyper-vigilant about what they may be doing when you cannot see them.

Outside politics, time is passing quickly for me, partly because I constantly run two clocks in my head. I am always conscious that spring here is autumn at home, that morning is night and Saturday is Sunday, etc. It is as if the Earth is doing two rotations in the time it used to do one. And then I had an email from my son last week saying he did not expect my husband and me to stay up, but it happened that his graduation ceremony was being live-streamed, so we could watch it if we found ourselves with not much to do at 2am on a Tuesday.

I sat up. It was great to have the ability to see the ceremony live, yet it made me feel more absent than if I had not seen it at all. There was my son, but where was I? A cardboard cut-out, I realise, would not be a comfort for my kids but be a comfort for me.

This column was first published in the May 27, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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