Political Correctness and Why It’s Important
Canada and America often like to pride themselves on being the birthplace of freedom, liberty and an integrated and multi-cultural society. However, do these sentiments extend to all groups within our societies? Or, are these traits something to be enjoyed only by those who are in a position of privilege? Recently, many groups who do not belong to the latter have demanded that their identities and experiences be accurately described in what they call the fight for political correctness, and there has been much controversy over whether or not this movement is one that is deemed worthy to be fighting for.
Although commonly known as the new “polite”, the term of political correctness is formally ascribed to the act of making an effort in one’s own language to avoid disparaging another individual or group of individuals (DiGiorgio). Political correctness arose tangentially to the field of identity politics in the 1990s in order to respond to the unfair treatment that those from marginalized groups received not only at face value, but also in mainstream culture because it did not reflect nor include their experiences and realities (Mukhopadhyay). Today, many believe that asking for political correctness is like asking to be “coddled”. That may be true, but under the status quo, there are situations where it’s okay to be coddled or to want to be coddled. Admittedly, western society is undeniably more integrated, multi-cultural and receptive than it used to be. That being said, modern racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination do still exist and are still very present in our world. The only difference is that today, these forms of discrimination are manifested in a much subtler way, to the point where many of us either do not even realize it’s a problem or do not want to believe that is. This is where political correctness comes in. It may seem overdone or unnecessary, but it is crucial to recognize that we are still living in a time where things need to change, and we can make that change happen by actively putting effort into mitigating biases and prejudices targeted towards certain groups of people in our society.
In our regular speech, we often use words such as “retarded”, “savage”, and “slut”. This language is not considered to be extremely derogatory and for the most part, users of this vocabulary don’t mean it in a literal sense and they most definitely do not direct it towards the people who are actually a part of these groups, because even for those who couldn’t care less about political correctness, there is still a line between being a decent person and being an awful one. However, even though we are aware that these words have slightly negative connotations associated with them, they have become normalized to the point where we believe they are an acceptable –and even essential – component of our vocabulary. We tell ourselves, “So what? I’m just joking, I’m not trying to be offensive.” That may be true – our intentions aren’t usually malicious one. But, the repeated use of these words end up engraving implications into our culture, which reinforces harmful stereotypes that need to be removed.
It doesn’t take much effort to replace one word in our vocabulary by another. Political correctness and free speech aren’t mutually exclusive. The movement for political correctness is one that simply advocates for a more careful choice of words so as to not disenfranchise groups of society that are already disadvantaged in many other ways. The goal of political correctness isn’t to ban individuals from saying triggering words, but to make individuals realize that these words may be harmful to others and to encourage them to actively choose not to use them because of the repercussions that they could have in the long run. Those who take issue against political correctness believe that it is a symptom of hypersensitivity and that it also impedes the already slow process of political affairs. However, let’s recognize that the alternative, that is, failing to respect people’s histories and their daily experiences, only increases the likelihood of passing problematic legislation and normalizing unequal treatment (Mukhopadhyay). Thus, the extent of the negative impacts of this alternative clearly outweighs the temporary annoyance and frustration of those who wish to keep being political incorrect for the sake of not having to go through the effort of finding a more inclusive vocabulary.
Political correctness is important because it is a tool that fosters the growth of a more inclusive society both explicitly, on a policy level, and implicitly, on a social and cultural level. The western world may seem like it has drastically improved over the last century, but right now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back, wipe off our hands and sit back to relax. There is still a lot of work to be done. The rising movements advocating for political correctness, particularly on college campuses, only emphasize just how much of a necessity it is in our current society to combat ingrained attitudes and prejudices towards those who do not fit what we perceive to be the “norm”.
While some of us may be frustrated with having to alter our vocabulary or attitudes, we have to realize that there are others who are far more frustrated than we are because our ignorant habits hinder their ability to self-realize. What political correctness allows for is the opportunity for historically marginalized groups to redefine themselves instead of accepting the identity that has been imposed onto them by those who have the power to define. Evidently, over-done political correctness can become counter-intuitive. However, it’s important to note that with the support for political correctness comes some support for this very occurence. Nonetheless, this is a very fair and reasonable concession to make, as it would be far more preferable to live in a world with political correctness taken too literally than to live in one with none at all.
Written by MWR writer Jiasi Liu, edited by the MWR team
DiGiorgio, Josh. “Why Is Political Correctness Important?” Quora. Quora, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Mukhopadhyay, Samantha. “OPINION: Why Political Correctness Is Still Politically Relevant.” Why Political Correctness Is Still Relevant. Al Jazeera, 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2016
The Downfalls of Political Correctness
Political correctness is a term that was born with the intention of reducing racism, discrimination, etc. Nowadays, political correctness has simply become a way of saying something offensive in a way that people can not object to it. For example, the politically correct way of calling someone short would be to call them vertically challenged. Will the person still be offended? Chances are that they will be, but how would the individual bring up the issue when the term is politically correct?
The term “passive aggressive” is most appropriate to compare with the term “politically correct”. You simply render an aggressive sounding term into a passive sounding one. It is exactly like being passive aggressive and this manner of speech is more troublesome than simply offensive terms. Offensive terms can easily be pointed out and the individual can be stopped from repeating it by telling them that it is offensive. But when it comes down to politically correct terms, the individual can simply respond by saying that it is not offensive since it is “politically correct”. This does not reduce racism or discrimination, it accumulates it under a layer of clever wording. This layer has worsened our ability to solve the issue and metamorphosed it. The whole notion of political correctness has been twisted by those who understand how they can use it to their advantage. It has become as problematic as any other kind of discrimination when used in a passive aggressive way.
Politically correct terms have also developed to become neutral terms in politics. It allows politicians to hide behind those words, never directly expressing themselves. For example we can look at politicians being politically correct on controversial issues. The politician can easily talk for the entire length of a debate and still not have revealed his opinion on the issue. By finding refuge in the land of political correctness, he makes it impossible to find fault in him. This hampers society’s ability to progress. Politicians will always stay politically correct to avoid offending the voter base, making it impossible to predict about their true intentions until after they are elected. An exception to this rule is Donald Trump; his straightforward talk is one of the few reasons he has managed to gather a huge following of people behind him. Neutrality is quasi impossible when talking about issues, neutrality becomes talking about nothing. Political correctness is the way to go when an issue divides the population greatly, since the priority of the politicians is the voting pool’s opinions and value, political correctness in politics is simply avoidance of the issue, with all the political uncertainty that such an occurrence implies.
The term “politically correct” has been mutated trough degenerating into a worrisome concept which society should avoid. The use of politically correct terms started with a noble purpose, but society has made it become a gaffe which timely abandonment would be beneficial to all.
Written by MWR writer Yu-Chen Michael Chu, edited by the MWR team