Is It Really Too Extreme?

Some time ago, a friend of mine emailed me one story about one prominent journalist being fired from the job he holds for many years based on the accusations of insensitive conversations and offensive remarks. My friend asked me whether I feel that “cancel culture” goes overboard. I told her that I would read this story more closely and tell her my opinion. 

This conversation happened a while ago, and first, I wanted to go over the details of the story she sent to me. But then I thought that the problem I want to address is not in the specific story of a specific person but rather this whole attitude of “well, I can agree with some of that, but that is way too overboard!”

Years ago, I thought the same. I thought it is OK that I have to be twice brighter as any man applying for the same job because I have to balance out the fact that I might have to take time off for a sick child. Years ago, I felt OK when men would hold the door for me or take heavy bags from me because they can carry them:). I even liked the hand-kissing thing.  

Years ago, I didn’t see anything wrong in presenting the Africans in the children’s books virtually naked and carrying spears.

The awakening moment for me was realizing that I belong to one of the “stereotyped” groups of people in the US. I know that some people are OK with that, but I never was. At my first job, when I didn’t have a car yet and could not drive, people were taking turns to drive me to work and helping me to pick up Vlad and Anna from the daycare. I realized that I hate the question, “who is picking up Russian kids today?” Why it’s important that they are Russian? Why are they not just Hettie’s kids? I hated the joke “Russians are coming!” when Yuri and I would enter the office. You might say that I was over-sensitive. Probably, but it was very difficult not to be annoyed with the “Anastasia” cartoon and to know that people indeed believe that’s who you are. 

There are tons of good books about racial and gender discrimination. Many people said it way better than I can. Still, I know that my friends want to know my very personal opinion: it’s all fine, Hettie, but what do you think?

First, I think that whatever “general population” considers “overboard, too much, too extreme” is just right. For many years, it never occurred to me to imagine how people on the receiving end feel. I never thought about whether “little black people” would like their images in my children’s books. The thought never crossed my mind. I was guilty across the board of stereotyping people by national origin, race, and gender. I think that people feel “too much” just because this way of thinking breaks their default patterns. “it’s not a big deal,” because it’s not a big deal for them.

And second, I think that people have a right to be “too sensitive.” because it is not “too sensitive,” it’s defending their dignity. I remember my Jewish friends in the Soviet Union reacting with pain on any display of antisemitism. Some people could also say: what’s a big deal? Nobody means anything bad, really! That’s just a joke! Back then, I would say the same thing: they had a right to be over-sensitive. Jews in the Soviet Union were indeed discriminated against, and their reaction at each and single case was justified. 

It is wrong to mock “too much of political correctness..” SImply wrong. Try to imagine yourself on the other side of the equation. 

6 thoughts on “Is It Really Too Extreme?

  1. Thank you for writing about this! I’ve been on both sides of receiving and giving insensitive remarks, and I hope that now I make fewer than 10 years ago. Do you speak out actively if you feel stereotyped? It happens to me pretty often as a Russian and female in IT in a rather conservative country, and I’ve been called “too sensitive” before.

    As for the ‘cancel culture’, do you support all the measures? Like “let’s take this person out from a public job and try to make sure that they won’t be in a public job again”? In some cases, if someone has committed a crime, it makes perfect sense. But what about the culture of acknowledging your mistakes and learning from them? For example, the infamous tweet by Justine Sacco was insensitive, but what would have been a good way to react to it? She posted about her white privilege before boarding a flight and had her life in pieces by the time she landed, there is a good NY Times article about that.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! Yes, I always speak up when I am being stereotyped, even with my boss. Moreover, I always speak up when I see other people being stereotyped, even subconsciously. It’s not easy, precisely because of a female leader stereotype :).

      As for the “cancel culture”, I purposely avoided this term in my blog post and purposely didn’t include any specific examples. From what I’ve observed, going through specific examples rarely convinces anybody. I do not think we have a good definition of what a cancel culture is. If we are talking about how people feel – absolutely, they have a right to feel what they feel, and the outsiders can’t even imagine the depth of the feelings. If we are talking about people facing legal consequences for their words and actions – these consequences were there all the time, possibly for different wrongdoings. Being in the corporate world for many years, I saw people being fired on the spot for drinking on-premises. I could argue that these actions were in fact the acts of retaliation, but that happened! On the other hand, I witnessed a person making extremely inappropriate comments (to put it mildly) on the corporate Slack, and NOT facing any consequences. And to be honest, I am not sure whether these days the same person would be fired.

      A public office is yet another realm. A person in a public office has zero room for mistakes, and they never had. That’s one of the reasons my daughter being in professional politics since the age of fourteen, never considered running for any office.

      If a person truly regrets doing something, not just saying – I am sorry – they have enough time to prove they changed their way of thinking for real.

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      1. Thank you! If you ever feel like writing a blog post on how you speak up on being stereotyped – how do you structure your response, how and when you approach another person, it would make a great read.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I thought about writing a blog post about that, multiple times. However, the fact that I will need to write about people and situations at work in the public space, stops me. I should write something about my experiences on the previous jobs 🙂

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          1. True, if they are about people who are alive and can recognise themselves, it might be better to use some disguise the way they do in books, though one never knows to what extent authors usually change the personal details and circumstances 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

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