Being labeled as “politically correct” is something that I’ve always felt uncomfortable about. When someone says something that I feel is inappropriate/marginalizing, I’ll say something, usually along the lines of “Hey, that’s not cool.” And I am consistently confronted with the response: “Oh come on, don’t be so PC.” Oftentimes, people will qualify what they say with something like “Okay, I know this is not exactly PC, but [insert microaggression here]. And these moments have consistently bothered me, but I could never put my finger on why….that is, until I came across an Everday Feminism article on political correctness and why it’s important.
Everyday Feminism’s Jarune Uwujaren discusses a few of the most common complaints about political correctness, and she’s broken it down into what people THINK they’re saying and what they’re ACTUALLY saying. I’ve listed her points below, along with what I think about each one.
- People are too sensitive
What people think they’re saying: “People are so self-important nowadays that they think the world has to cater to their sensitivities.”
What people are actually saying: “It’s okay for the world to cater to the sensitivities of some people, but this group of people doesn’t count for some reason.”
This complaint hits home for me. To deem someone “too sensitive” is essentially belittling their compassion and empathy for others. I would love to know why wanting to make a more comfortable and inclusive environment for ALL people makes me inappropriately sensitive. Creating a safe environment so people don’t feel marginalized and attacked is actually just being a decent person, not “too sensitive.”
- It Keeps Us From Saying What We Really Mean
What people think they’re saying: “People have to constantly walk on eggshells to avoid being labeled bigots. It keeps us from having real conversations and saying what we really mean.”
What people are actually saying: “I want the freedom to call people what I please, but no one should call me a bigot.”
Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing. You can say what you want and not be arrested, yay America! But as our culture shifts more and more towards an equal society, it’s becoming more and more unacceptable to say things that directly marginalize a group of people. Society evolves, so you can evolve with it towards a more accepting way of speaking, or you can keep your bigoted speech. I guarantee that whatever you have to say can be effectively said without it.
- Focusing on Words Distracts From More Important Issues
What people think they’re saying: “When we pay too much attention to the words people can or can’t say, we end up ignoring more important issues.”
What people are actually saying: “All issues must be THIS important to ride.”
I’m not saying that focusing on words alone will solve all of society’s issues. But the truth is that words matter, and they have a larger impact than we realize. The words we choose will either perpetuate our culture of violence and oppression, or it will work towards a better, more inclusive future for marginalized groups.
One of my favorite things about Uwujaren’s article is that she states right away that political correctness is totally subjective. What’s acceptable to you might not be acceptable to me or vice versa, and that’s okay. She does an excellent job of putting political correctness into the larger picture of human compassion. Political correctness has many different levels, and not everyone agrees on what is PC and what is not PC. But if each person strives to speak compassionately about others, this world would undoubtedly be a better place.
Political correctness isn’t about being sensitive, it isn’t avoiding what you really mean, and it isn’t a distraction. It’s about putting others’ humanity on the same level as your own. It’s about being a decent person.