By Alek M.
Today is full of a seemingly endless stream of heated political debates about how our society should be conducted. Of these, one particular topic that is outwardly of the least significance is political correctness. During last year’s presidential election, we continuously heard remarks about how political correctness had gone crazy, and had become an oppressive force in our national conversation. Many people seemed to resonate with this idea, after being told that terms they had used for their entire lives didn’t fit in with the current acceptable vernacular. Is this understandable, though? And is it important to be politically correct, especially in our public dialogues online and our identity as a corporation?
It may seem like unnecessary and roadblock in communication
Speaking from a primarily American viewpoint, one general consistency amongst the American identity is that we don’t like to be told what to do. At its heart, political correctness and many of the topics that we hear about in relation to it may seem like they are in direct conflict with this ideal. Why shouldn’t we get to say what we want to and speak our minds? Why should we constantly be forced to regulate our language for the sake of someone else choosing to be offended by it? This is the mindset that opposes and cringes at the mention of political correctness. However, there is more to the story.
It’s more than decorum
To those who disagree with it, political correct speech can feel like flowery decorum that people use as a badge to show off their progressive values. However, it’s important to remember that much of the language that gets examined under the microscope of political correctness is more than just decoration. Racial epithets are more than just words to people whom they are directed towards. Language has history, and conversations that we have between each other and communities should take into account how words carry a significant amount of meaning.
Consider how your words affect others
People often lament having to censor themselves to the demands of political correctness, but this is something that we do all the time. It’s hard to imagine that a person would ever make a dead baby joke around a mother who just lost their child, or make a joke about someone’s ineptness after they just lost their job (and if they did, we would fittingly describe them as an asshole). This is a form of self-censorship, because we understand that our words would be an attack against that other person, whether it was intended that way or not.
Oftentimes, the groups of people who political correctness should be protecting have issues that are invisible to the people who use harmful terms towards them. Try to imagine how these words make someone feel in the same way you would if someone close to you went through a difficult experience, and the contextual importance of political correctness is easier to understand.
The idea that there are “just words” is inherently un-American, because this country was entirely founded on language of resistance. Indeed, we even have an entire branch of government that whose entire purpose is to make sense of how the wording of our constitution fits into life today. Language matters, and continuously using terms in a derogatory way towards a group of people builds a subtle but powerful “otherness” around their image, and dehumanizes the individuals who belong to that group.
Values stand out
People who decry political correctness feel like they are taking a stand, but what are they taking a stand for? Free speech? Free speech is definitely important, even more so than political correctness, but the right to say hurtful things also necessitates the right to suffer the consequences of that kind of behavior and get called out for that rhetoric. Political correctness isn’t always an assault on free speech, but is free speech manifesting to regulate itself. Unless the government is regulating what you can and can’t say, then free speech is in no danger. And you should be allowed to say horrible things, if you so desire, but the real people taking a stand are the people and businesses who have the values to stand up to that kind of behavior.