It has become commonplace to hear the term “politically correct” tossed around in all sorts of circles. The way I see it, non-PC statements are only a problem because they are indicative of a deeper problem in the way people think. But staying politically correct does not solve this or any problem. In fact, by eliminating discussion and acknowledgment, we have created a bigger problem.
Enforcing political correctness is censorship. If we believe certain racist, sexist, and otherwise insensitive or discriminatory ideas and behaviors are bad, it makes sense that we want to stop them. But by forcing people to use specific terminology or avoid certain conversation topics, we are going about it all wrong. Staying “politically correct” is not medicine for the problems that exist—it’s a band-aid to cover up the wounds.
In addition, its goals are all wrong. Political correctness doesn’t teach people to be mindful of problems in the way they think; it teaches them to avoid “offending people.”
What’s wrong with this, you might ask? Isn’t it noble to avoid offending people? Isn’t that the point? No. It is not the point. The word “offend” in the definition of political correctness is used in a more abstract way than people think. “Offending political sensibilities” is different from offending people.
Here is the kind of offense the definition of “politically correct” refers to:
Here is the kind of offense people typically try to avoid by being “politically correct”:
By focusing on hurt feelings, discomfort, or anger provoked in people instead of focusing on the moral transgression or underlying mistake, political correctness is discredited. On the scale of societal importance, feelings are way lower than morals. Taking offense is deemed petty. As soon as we made political correctness a game of feelings, we allowed people to diminish, laugh at, or become angry about anyone who takes offense. We allowed people to stop caring about political correctness, and thus, to stop caring about the problems which inspired it.
So there are two problems with political correctness: it is unattractive and unpopular and therefore rarely upheld, and when it is upheld, it does not accomplish the right goals.
Case in Point:
Take for instance the following holiday song performed by Brad Paisley, in which “non-offensive” and “politically correct” are tongue-in-cheek impossible ideals, because they require simply not saying a multitude of words like “white” and “Christmas” (since not everybody is white or celebrates Christmas…duh).
Avoiding personal offense is both ridiculous and ridiculously hard and people know it. This song points at “political correctness” and roars with laughter.
If you’re on Tumblr you’ve heard of “social justice warriors,” people who enter a space or conversation which is meant to be fun and “take offense” where none was meant. These “white knights” try to stick up for every marginalized group everywhere, potentially without full understanding of the issues they raise and potentially for reputation purposes or just to feel better about themselves for being sensitive and aware. Sometimes they appear more ignorant in trying not to be, like in this movie clip. They are often criticized for trying to “out-politically-correct” other people.
Recently I’ve encountered several Facebook arguments vaguely about this concept, the crux of the problem being that some people want a fun space where they can feel free to post statements without being attacked for insensitivity and other people want a mindful space where they can feel free to respond negatively to a post without being attacked for over-sensitivity. (Which seems pretty simple to me. The solution is: don’t attack people… for any reason! But whatever, nobody listens to me.)
Political correctness is a bad term and a bad idea. We do not live in a “politically correct” world, where race, sex, religion, and gender issues don’t exist, so we cannot live in a world where we don’t mention or talk about them. Nor can we always avoid offending someone’s feelings or comfort. That simply is not realistic or practical. There is always the possibility that a conversation will make somebody upset, but we cannot be responsible for the feelings of everybody in the world. We can, however, be responsible for our own attitudes and actions. The answer to solving problems is not to stop talking about them. It’s exactly the opposite.
Instead of being “politically correct” and censoring your language to avoid sensitive words and topics, we can be mindful of how our attitudes and actions are influenced by prejudices, privileges, and stereotypes, and also how our words actively influence the reinforcement and embodiment of those prejudices, privileges, and stereotypes.
Suggestion: if you catch you or someone you know using the term “politically (in)correct” for any reason, either to censor or to mock, stop yourselves and
- Consider why the subject at hand has been labeled “politically incorrect.” Here’s a tip: the answer is not because it will hurt someone’s feelings. Think of the moral or divine law it transgresses, or the way it makes assumptions about, disrespects, or diminishes a person or group’s identity.
- Consider your own associations and beliefs surrounding this concept, where those beliefs came from, and how your current actions/words/thoughts both influence and are influenced by those beliefs.
- Don’t stress about it. Create a mental file folder for this issue and continue the conversation the next time something comes up.
Have I made myself clear? Please stop trying to be politically correct, and admonishing those who are not. Instead, consider earnestly the ways you think and act and have mindful, respectful conversations about it. I’m out.