Political correctness gets a bum rap these days. Political correctness may be defined as “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” Much has been made of Donald Trump’s boast that “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap.” Political correctness, put in context, is a good thing, it is not a bad thing. Let us try to put it in perspective.
If I invite my friend to my home, I am not going to tell her that I think her dress is the ugliest thing I have ever seen, even if I think so. There is honesty, but then there is just plain rudeness. Honesty at the expense of a person’s feelings is just plain rude. If I invite my Muslim or Jewish friends for dinner, knowing that they do not eat pork, I am not going to serve a ham, right? These are examples of ‘political correctness’ on a personal level. I think of it as basic human kindness.
So why all the hullaballoo over political correctness in this country? The goal of being politically correct is to encourage tact and sensitivity to others’ feelings around issues of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical abilities, ethnicity, culture, etc. Perhaps part of the problem is the label itself … what we now think of as ‘political correctness’ used to be known as respect, or basic manners. One of my earliest lessons in this was around age five when I referred to a friend’s grandmother as a ‘Kraut’. I can still taste that soap today!
Let’s start with the simple things. Think of people with certain disabilities. 50 years ago, a person with Down’s Syndrome was called a ‘Mongoloid’, and conjoined twins were called ‘Siamese twins’. The effect of those labels was to somehow make the person seem like less of a person, like something possibly evil. We ultimately came to understand that the person should not be defined as the disability. A person with leprosy is just that … a person with leprosy, not a leper.
Race and religion have undergone transformations in the way we speak and think about them. The ‘n-word’ is taboo today in all cases. Period. We no longer use words like ‘kike’ to describe a person of Jewish faith, or ‘dago’ and ‘wop’ to describe a person of Italian descent. And this is all as it should be. It is called R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
So why the criticism? I think for the most part it is the perception of what it means to be politically correct. One comment I came across in my research sums it up: “PC is separating the United States as a country. You’re either offended by something that someone says, or offended that someone’s offended by something that someone said. PC is a violation of one’s right to Freedom of Speech. If someone is allowed to burn the United States flag, then Ted Cruz should be able to refer to a terrorist group as Islamic Radicals without being sued by the Political Correctness Speech.” Do people actually believe that being respectful to others is a violation of their 1st amendment rights? Unfortunately, yes, some people do believe that. The media and politicians are doing a fantastic job convincing people of exactly that. How many times have I heard people grousing that they are ‘no longer allowed to say Merry Christmas’? The kernel of truth in this is that some businesses now require their employees to say “Happy Holidays” out of respect for customers who observe religions other than Christianity, and rather than single out one particular religion, or have staff members saying “Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Joyous Kwanzaa”, they cover all bases with a simple “Happy Holidays”. Other than that, every person in this nation has the right to say “Merry Christmas” anytime, anywhere, to anyone. But the perception is that the right to express oneself by saying “Merry Christmas” has been taken away. Nothing could be further from the truth. But sadly, all it takes is one stupid Facebook meme … a handful of people ‘like’ and ‘share’ with all their friends, and pretty soon the number of people who see … and believe … has multiplied exponentially.
An informal poll on Debate.org found that 92% of people surveyed thought that political correctness did more harm than good. However, I question the results of the poll as I believe it catered to a very narrow scope of people. Consider this comment: “The issue is people are oversensitive. They can’t take a racist joke. Admit they are funny. Also mean speech is protected by the Constitution. I can be sexist, racist, or anything as long as I don’t take physical action as in punching. It bad. People can’t take the truth even if it is mean.” Sorry, dude, but there is nothing …. I repeat nothing … funny about racist jokes.
Several opinions I came across noted that in labeling people as racist, homophobic, etc., we are being politically incorrect. I disagree. Political correctness calls on us to not label people based on such things as race, gender, religion, disabilities, national origin, culture, etc., things that may set people apart from others. Those are traits, they are part of who a person is and should not be mocked nor disparaged. But if a person speaks against Muslims or African-Americans for no other reason than that they are Muslims or African-Americans, then that person is racist, and the racist label is based on a behaviour, not a trait. An example: I am a female. I was born that way, and it is part of what makes me the person I am. I would not tolerate being called derogatory names based on the fact that I am a female. However, if I go on a rant (who, me???) and refer to Muslims as ‘towel-heads’, then I am a bigot and I deserve to be labeled as such.
Political correctness can undoubtedly be carried to extremes and has from time to time. But, let us not ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater’. Overall, being politically correct simply means treating everyone with courtesy, kindness and respect, and that is always the right thing to do. It is not the right thing because it reflects Christian values, or American values, but because it reflects human values. When we lose our humanity, then we have lost our way.