I recently had a very interesting conversation with my friend. Like myself, she is very active in politics and activism, and we have a lot of impromptu discussions, like one that we had recently about being politically correct. It started as a conversation about the representation of women in color, and then I learn that she doesn’t consider herself/ doesn’t know if she is a woman of color, as an Iranian-American. And so, I did a deep dive into what it means to be a woman of color, and the specifics of using that “political language correctly”. Then began our conversation about being politically correct. Is it important? Is it a social construct? Does it make the world more tolerant? Do people care or is it just a part of cancel culture? I’m going, to be honest, I had never thought about this topic in that way. And that’s probably because political correctness is only shown in one light, regardless of what people might think is right or wrong. As I researched and continued this conversation, I kept thinking, “why haven’t I heard of this before” and “why hasn’t anyone (until now) told me about this”. Part of my reason for blogging is sharing topics that might not get shared otherwise. In this post, I am going to do a deep dive into this conversation on political correctness. Rather than “answer” some of those questions I mentioned earlier, I am going to explore the ways to approach them. I also included links (as always) to some further reading and my sources at the end of the post, many of which are interesting. I like to think that all the resources I include in every post are interesting, but these are truly thought-provoking, and many are passionate opinion pieces.
disclaimer. I am going to show multiple sides of this argument and discussion regarding whether or not people should try to be politically correct. I also want to emphasize that I believe that you don’t always have to have a clear opinion on everything. Things and opinions take time to form, and topics like this take a lot of thinking and discussion. It’s important to remain aware of what’s going on around you, but I don’t want anyone to feel pressured to pick a side or have fully formed, steadfast beliefs about everything. Last thing, a lot of this post is the United States focused due to my resources and expereince, but political correctness is a global topic and is not limited to one country.
what does it mean? Before we get to the different ways of looking at political correctness, we must all be on the same page. This term has a lot of meanings and interpretations, which means that there are so many different ways to consider it. It has been used as a compliment and insult in the past. NPR says it well: ” ‘Politically correct’ means politically wise or invalid or hypersensitive or cowardice.” I’m going to be referring to the Merriam-Webster definition that defines politically correct as “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated” but I will also mention some of the other interpretations. The NPR article I mentioned earlier does a very good job of cataloging the history of the phrase.
what’s the big deal? Like I mentioned, the term has had a lot of different meanings and has transformed over the years. Some people think that society’s move towards political correctness is silly and people are just offended more easily. Others think that it promotes civility and inclusion. Others think that it is a social construct and that language is different than intent. Others hold onto its meaning during the Civil Rights Act. And these are not all of the opinions of it out there. Now, do you understand why it’s complicated?
why do people think it is a bad thing? Based on my research and some of the opinion articles I read, these are some of the reasons and thinkings behind why we should focus on being politically correct or why it is a bad thing.
- it is an impingement on their freedom of speech. Some people think that by expecting others to use certain language, you are controlling their speech and 1st amendment rights. They think it is the imposition of one’s personal beliefs on others that might not consider the same things “politically correct”. Some people think that what is considered “politically correct” is not fact-based, but opinion-based, and therefore should not be expected of or enforced upon others.
- it is a result of “leftist sensitivity” or sensitivity in general. You’ve probably heard the term “snowflakes” before. Many think that people are too sensitive and political correctness just enables this sensitivity and makes a weaker. This also relates to the idea that if we focus too much on what sensitive people need, we miss out on the substance of what we are trying to talk about.
- it can cause people to be more concerned with their language than their meaning and opinions. There is a way of looking at this where your language is prioritized over your meanings, or appearance is prioritized over substance. For example, focusing too much on using politically correct language that you are afraid to speak up or don’t fully communicate what you mean.
- it is not conducive to a successful business/work environment. This is very specific, but I thought I would include it anyway. This article talks about political correctness as it pertains to a “healthy work environment”. I am not a business expert and I have not done that much research on it, but as a large part of the US is business/ economy-focused, I thought I would include it.
why do people think it is a good thing. As I did before, these are some of the reasons people think we should be politically correct or why it is a positive thing.
- its origins are about social change and challenging things like racism and sexism. People often think that being politically correct means honoring its roots from the late 20th century and various social justice and racial justice movements.
- it promotes inclusion and awareness of others. Some think that political correctness makes everyone stay committed to being aware of what offends or hurts others. By changing language that used to not as inclusive, changing it makes it clear that others are not included in it.
- it follows changing social dynamics as a society (ideally) moves away from old customs and standards, like racism. There is the idea that language must change to reflect an increasingly diverse society, where civility and inclusion are valued.
- I recommend reading this article, which I found very powerful and interesting, about why the author chooses to be politically correct.
what do American political parties have to do with this? I do want to mention that I have my own political party bias, so please take this with a grain of salt, and consult my sources when considering this information, but everything I say here is generally speaking and reflective of extensive research. Trump has been a big opponent of political correctness. Almost all of the articles I read, pointed to him as a major figure in this discussion. A lot of political scholars think that is part of the reason he was elected (only in 2016). However, people also say Trump took it past being politically correct or not, and went straight to racism and vulgarity, but used his idea of not being political correctness to cover it up (think of his Mexicans are “rapists” remarks). Generally speaking, major conservative figures have called out “the elite” and the left for using political correctness, for some of the reasons I mentioned above. On the other side, the left has been known to defend political correctness, but some think that this puts them too close to identity politics. There is also the sphere of activism, on both sides, and extremists, that take on their views, but I don’t want to focus too much on that now.
my takeaways. I just went over A LOT of information, so here’s a little overview and some main takeaways I hope you leave with. Political correctness has a lot of different definitions to different people and therefore can be interpreted differently. And it is because of these different definitions, that I think, causes a lot of controversies. I also think that as party politics get mixed up, it travels further and further from its original meaning. Finally, it is important to understand the different points of view, so that when you do form your own opinion, it is well informed and open to other ideas.
This has probably been one of the most complicated posts to write – because of how diverse and polarizing opinions on this topic can be. It’s also very subjective, especially when we are all thinking of different definitions of the word! I tried to do my best of giving a holistic view of political correctness, but I’m sure that I missed something, and I want to acknowledge that and my possible bias. So, to make up for that, I encourage you to either ask questions, share your opinion, share any (credible) information I may have forgotten and read some of the articles below. Even if you don’t agree with some of them (I know I didn’t like some of them), they still are an important part of this discussion.
(these include Opinion pieces, and therefor may have conflicting ideas, but not conflicting facts. they are not representative of my opinions or this post, but of the topic of discussion)
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