‘Political correctness’ and why it matters

Alyson Riley, Staff Writer

As social media has become increasingly expansive and intricate, awareness of common civil issues has grown as well. All over the world, people are frequently and genuinely discussing topics like sexuality, racism, and women’s rights—ideas are circulating as far as the eye can see, and understanding is being fostered in the far reaches of the globe. It’s dynamic, and it’s beautiful.

Unfortunately, despite the development of such universal comprehension, there yet prevails a sense of viciously willful ignorance. Many people choose to actively fight against any social or political movement geared toward the “left,” citing (often out of context) an aggressive Biblical passage, misquoting the Bill of Rights, or even resorting to violent actions in notably feeble and ill-founded attempts to defend hollow personal prejudices.

Particularly under fire (especially in the 2016 election season) is the concept of “political correctness,” which is the abstention of language and action that can be perceived as discriminatory or offensive to people whose demographic is considered disadvantaged or marginalized.

First coined by the far-far-left movement in the 1970’s, the term “politically correct” has, over the years, fluctuated from a conservative pejorative to a method of preventing media bias to its contemporary purpose of denouncing problematic (i.e. racist or sexist) sentiments.

In its ideal and most common state, political correctness hinders the use of racial and gendered slurs and provides easy, convenient, harmless substitutions for things we say and do that would further preserve any questionable, once-commonplace attitudes or behaviors.

For example, white people are generally discouraged from using the “n-word,” and programs like Title IX and affirmative action have been implemented in schools in order to ensure that women and people of color are given the same opportunities as their white male counterparts. It is meant to act as a sort of makeshift stepladder to equality following centuries upon centuries of established oppression.

Though widely endorsed by many, political correctness is, in general, opposed by those whose speech and actions it attempts to limit. Many men resent the fact that they can’t jokingly tell their girlfriends to make them a sandwich, and a sizable sum of the population doesn’t like being discouraged from throwing around the words “gay” or “retarded” like it doesn’t have severe emotional repercussions on actual LGBT or neuro-atypical people.

And while it’s understandable and, I’ll admit, forgivable to not want your right to free speech limited, it’s a pretty fair price to pay for the systematic discrimination and oppression that so many have experienced and still suffer reverberations from.

No matter how harmless your intentions, use of slurs perpetuates centuries of oppression and preserves sentiments held by those who found it necessary to keep women and people of color submissive and voiceless for so long. Though the more immediate horrors of slavery, segregation, and female subordination have been settled and written off in the relatively distant past, the sentiments that they created and encouraged not only still exist in our society, but are perceived as normal and harmless.

Women are still viewed as primarily as homemakers and child-bearers. White people still violently pursue reasons why African-American police brutality victims deserve to be killed. Members of the LGBT community can be fired or denied work for their sexualities alone. Around 41 percent of the transgender community will attempt suicide because of the rejection and discrimination that so often accompanies gender non-conformity. Almost half of Americans think that Muslim Americans should be denied certain basic civil rights, and one of the most widely discussed issues of our election season has been whether or not we should allow refugees of a civil war that has killed over 250,000 people asylum in our country.

We live in a world in which people are forsaken, injured, or even killed because of their inherent characteristics and differences. Every day we stay complacent, more and more people will be affected, and more and more blood will be on our hands.

And yes, I concede, political correctness cannot fix these problems; however, it could be an incredible, spark-lighting start to a long-overdue social revolution. Creating a stigma around insensitive, discriminatory speech and actions could raise awareness of the institutionalized normalcy and deliberate allowance of the hatred and bigotry that is so prevalent in our society.

All in all, the fight against political correctness is one that is, essentially, obligated to be lost. We, both as a nation and as individuals, must realize that the license to unrestricted speech cannot and should not be given at the expense of the prosperity, safety, and lives of people with or of whom we disagree or disapprove. There are more than feelings and free speech at stake, and we need to take action and responsibility for the changes that we owe ourselves and each other.