Food for Thought: Choose Your Words Gingerly

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There is a bakery in Melbourne, Australia, that took the traditional Gingerbread man cookie recipe and altered not only its ingredients but also revamped the name of these vegan delights to the “Organic Genderless Gingerbread Figures.” These little treats look nothing like the traditional little brown men with red hot eyes decorated with icing and candy buttons that we have all come to know and love.

This idea, though a thoughtful one, sparked a bit of backlash after going viral. It seems to raise the question: Can you be too politically correct?

“Customers in the environmentally-friendly shop have expressed ‘enthusiastic admiration’ for the genderless cookies,” said Jeanette Taylor, an organic food, wine and deli owner from Melbourne, Australia, in a blog post on Melbourne’s Herald Sun.

She added, “It’s more about not offending people by writing ‘man’ than someone saying, ‘Well it’s not a man or woman.’ We’re organic, and we like people to think about what they say and do and be responsible.”

I find the idea of a genderless cookie to be novel. This idea that cookies are neither man nor woman creates a conversation about equality. The attention it brought to such ideals is good; from time to time, people tend to forget to be conscious of such things. It is all too common for people to speak without thinking. The name of this little treat alone will have you thinking before you eat.

My definition of being politically correct is a complex and flexible one. When you are acting or speaking in a politically correct fashion, you are doing so with not only the intent but the action of trying to avoid offending others. If you are speaking the truth, and the listener takes offense, you still could be politically correct.

Per the dictionary definition, nothing about being politically correct says you have to be factual in your speech or action. It only implies that if your speech isn’t offensive, it could be considered politically correct.

For me, there never really seemed to be much importance in the labels themselves; it was the intent behind them that concerns me.

I woke up an Indian, and tonight I might fall asleep a Native American. Weird as it may sound, as a biracial woman and member of the Ojibwe tribe, these labels have always been interchangeable.

There are terms whose definition alone is derogatory or offensive — being called an Indian in my generation was more of a common term than a derogatory statement. Members of older generations might not feel the same way as I do about being called an Indian and might very well become offended if you referred to them as such, as they interpret words in a literal sense. Since they are not from India, being called an Indian might feel offensive.

Such terms and verbiage tend to change, and time alters the seriousness of them — some in positive ways and others in negative — but the intent in which the words are being used remains constant.

Oh, how grand would that be if everyone would take a moment before they speak and analyze their thoughts and words to ensure that no one would be offended. When the boulder of reality comes crashing down, it is clear the definition of the term is not tailored to please everyone.

If we compiled individual opinions with no facts to back them up, just basing them on the reaction of others, they leave a greater opportunity for confusion about what is politically correct and what is not. Being politically correct could possibly overflow into not just what you say, but how you say it.

The preferences of what a Native American wants to be referred to vary from state to state, reservation to reservation and generation to generation. To be safe instead of sorry, I advise others to use the term Native American for natives indigenous to America and save the label of Indian for those who are of Indian descent or from India, as not all Indians are okay with being called an Indian.

Author Pearl Strachan Hurd said it best: “Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”

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