Political correctness — the (exaggerated) woe of so many. Clearly, I think the complaints are petty. And not even the fun kind of petty like an argument on Real Housewives of [Upscale Municipality].
To be “politically incorrect” is not against the law, but a social faux pas in many circles — and welcomed in many other circles. For people who complain about how we have to be so politically correct nowadays, I wonder if they’ve considered the history of how certain groups of people have been allowed to speak or interact with other groups of people. I wonder if they’ve ever truly felt the hypocrisy of our Constitution and its amendments in concordance with the actions of our country. According to the American history that I know, the good ole days weren’t good for most of us.
Political correctness is about respect, and being mindful of the respect that all people deserve. The following may sting for some, but truth hurts.
In the past, and in some people’s minds in the present, full respect was only required to be given to the dominant group, with less and less respect granted to a person as they were farther down the “hierarchy.” White men, especially rich ones, received the utmost respect, with free reign to cast indignities upon most everyone else. For example, need more land for your slaves to grow your crops? Trail of Tears. Want to have sex but bored with your whiny wife? Rape a slave.
This hierarchy was designed so that race trumps gender, so white women were ranked just below white men. Having lady parts, they were obviously not worthy of any true power, but their fair skin and belonging to white men earned them generous deference. Any “non-white” person then suffered a range of dehumanizing experiences, respect not required or expected. Who could do what to whom was not just a social norm, but supported and encouraged by law. And for any of these lesser groups to demand respect was an affront to the superiority of the dominant group.
This hierarchy of preference extends beyond race and gender to include many other ways that a person might identify themselves, or the ways society might identify a person. These identifiers include religion, ethnicity, economic class, education, sexual orientation, physical ability, intellectual ability, size, health, and the list goes on. For a variety of reasons, we learn that there are “right”ways of being for these personal identifiers, and those who exhibit the “wrong” way of being are often disrespected and discriminated against in a myriad of ways.
If you believe in a society that shows mutual respect for all people, and you care to show respect for people, then be mindful of your language. If you don’t care, then use whatever language you like, and understand that there are consequences for that.
Sometimes the consequence of being disrespectful towards a group of people is as minimal as chipping away at your own integrity. If that’s worth it to you, then carry on. The biggest consequence you’ll probably face is that someone may check you on your delusional superiority complex, and that beautiful gift can come in a variety of wrappings.
You are not brave for sharing an “unpopular opinion” as you are not treading uncharted territory — if your opinion is damaging to a marginalized group of people, surely it’s already been said. So if you’d like to continue carrying the banner for our country’s indiscretions and short-comings, don’t be shocked when the rest of us remind you that we’re choosing to do better.
Whether your consequences are an unfavorable comment on your blog or losing your job because your point of view doesn’t reflect well on your organization, be mindful of the context. Keep in perspective that these consequences are minimal compared to what the marginalized group you disregarded has endured simply for being who they are. If you can’t think of any examples, here are a few.
When people complain about being “required” to be politically correct, I hear them complaining that they can’t say whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want without consequence. Welcome to the club. If necessary, reread the section called “Respect.”
Some people complain that others are “too sensitive.” If anyone is “too sensitive,” it’s the person that scoffs at the notion that “lesser” groups should be well-considered and treated accordingly, for fear that it might make room for that group to share their pedestal. “Too sensitive” is when a person says something offensive and then complains that someone told them they were offensive.
If someone says “that’s politically incorrect,” it’s not just to say “shut your mouth,” but to say, “your language reflects a belief that places people of a certain group beneath you and disregards how our society has harmed them.”
The notion of political correctness allows people of marginalized groups to do what we’ve been kept from doing for most of U.S. history — saying “that hurts.” “That hurts me and my community from being seen as equals in society” or “That literally hurts. Please stop shooting/beating/kidnapping/raping/lynching us.” It’s simply an expression of personhood, which too many of us have been denied. So next time you roll your eyes at the request for less offensive language, be mindful of the history behind what we now call “political correctness.”