Political correctness is absolute bullsh*t, but not for the reasons you might think.
Political correctness works against us in two ways. First, we ostracize people for wanting to discuss issues we'd rather not address. Second, it prevents us from honestly expressing our sentiments on controversial topics.
People say "stop trying to be politically correct" when they want to dismiss an issue as irrelevant. It's a way of discouraging an uncomfortable, but necessary, conversation before it even starts.
Or as Amanda Taub of Vox puts it:
There's no such thing as 'political correctness.' The term's in wide use, certainly, but has no actual fixed or specific meaning. What defines it is not what it describes but how it's used: as a way to dismiss a concern or demand as a frivolous grievance rather than a real issue.
Simply put, we have no idea what it really means to be “politically correct” because nothing about our politics is “correct.”
We are afraid to have candid conversations about important issues due to our own fears and insecurities. And it's perpetuating both ignorance and prejudice.
"Political correctness" is a form of censorship and an impediment to free speech, in the sense that it's a phrase used to shame people into silence.
Freedom of speech means that everyone has the right to express his or her opinion on an issue, even if you don't agree with him or her for saying it. Exceptions to this rule have been established over time.
Yet, if we are to create a truly democratic society, then marginalized people's must have a voice and we have to change the language we use to describe people.
With that said, this also means people have the right to say things like, “You're just trying to be politically correct.” But that doesn't mean they're not full of sh*t. Statements like this are a direct attack on free speech.
Free speech, in its truest form, is unfettered dialogue about the issues that impact society. And this doesn't mean issues that only impact the majority. You can't exclude minorities from the conversation, that's not democracy.
Language Has More Power Than You Might Think
In a recent piece for New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait argues:
Political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. ...Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate.
What he's really trying to say is that people, particularly those on the left, have become too touchy about language in relation to political dialogue.
Indeed, political correctness is often characterized as a practice employed by hypersensitive liberals who place too much emphasis on the power of words.
We've all probably heard people say things like, "Stop being so oversensitive, I didn't mean it like that, I'm obviously not a bigot" after they've used controversial words or phrases. This is another way of saying, "Sorry I wasn't being politically correct."
Yet, almost any time you have to defend yourself using phrases such as "I'm not racist" or "I'm not a bigot," you've already lost the argument.
Likewise, the controversy over the Redskins' name is an extremely relevant when discussing "political correctness."
Many Redskins fans are evidently of the opinion that the name isn't intentionally offensive, so there's no reason to change it. Well, that's a pretty easy position to take when you likely have no idea what it's like to be Native American (and being one-sixteenth Cherokee doesn't count).
Not to mention, the history of the US government's oppressive treatment of Native Americans is often ignored, as it's a black mark on the glorified narrative of America's rise to power.
Today, Native Americans have been pushed to the fringes of society, and are hardly acknowledged at all. Concurrently, the primary way we do reference Native American culture in the present day is via offensively cartoonish brands for sports teams, like "Redskins."
One wonders how many Redskins fans opposing the name change have actually spoken with any Native Americans about this issue. Or perhaps they simply dismissed the controversy as "pc-bullsh*t" before even entertaining that idea.
Just in case any anti-name change Redskins fans happen to be reading this, here's what the president of the National Congress of American Indians has to say on the matter:
The invisibility of Native peoples and lack of positive images of Native cultures may not register as a problem for many Americans, but it poses a significant challenge for Native youth who want to maintain a foundation in their culture and language. The Washington team's brand — a name derived from historical terms for hunting native peoples — is a central component to this challenge. ... The rate of suicide among Native youth is the highest among all American young people. Studies show the use of American Indian-based names, mascots and logos in sports has a negative psychological effect on Native peoples and positive psychological consequences for European Americans.
Words do have power. They have history and context we often can't understand unless we're associated with the people, culture or group they've been used in reference to.
When you come from a position of privilege, it's hard to comprehend what oppression looks or feels like. This is why we see individuals like Bill O'Reilly denying the existence of white privilege.
Privilege doesn't necessarily mean you are automatically better off than other people or minorities. Rather, privilege is often invisible, and a product of culture, geography and history.
The context in which language is used is incredibly important. What might seem very clear to you is more ambiguous and convoluted to others. Our subjective interpretations of the world might give us cause to see certain issues, words or phrases as frivolous.
Yet, before you dismiss others as oversensitive or "politically correct," give them a chance to speak their minds. You might learn something.
Political correctness is bullsh*t. Not because many people are actively searching for more respectful ways to discuss complex issues, but because there are still people out there who are attacking them for it.
Citations: Fighting the Use of the Word Redskins (The National Congress of American Indians ), The truth about political correctness is that it doesnt actually exist (Vox), Not a very PC thing to say (New York Magazine )