What's up with "PC Culture"?
by Kimberly Roe
Political correctness is a concept that has been around for years. In the early 20th century, “politically correct” was a term used by Socialists to describe Communists whose loyalties to the Communist Party seemed to overshadow their sense of morality. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s it was used satirically and sarcastically until the definition and conversation grew more serious and widespread across America. Around the 1990’s it began being commonly abbreviated as “p.c.” and was a frontrunner in debates about teaching at college campuses. Now, in the 21st century, political correctness is on the minds of many and steadily gaining even more exposure in mainstream media. Some say it contributes to the emotional weakening of the next generation. Others believe it is key to bridging the gap between groups of people by encouraging positive communication. At its core, however, being politically correct involves taking measures in everyday life and beyond to avoid offending or stumbling other people, particularly specific groups of people who are commonly targeted in different ways. Oftentimes, “PC culture” is referred to negatively, with critics saying it coddles sensitive people, impedes comedy, or filters what we all really mean to say. But is that truly the case?
Recently, many people have pushed back against the effort to be politically correct. Almost always when the phrase is used, it is used unfavorably. Politicians, college professors, and more have spoken out against PC culture. They often claim it hinders free speech and gives people an excuse to complain about petty things. Comedians have bashed PC culture, loudly proclaiming that their comedy would not embrace the movement as, they argue, it takes away everyone’s sense of humor. PC advocates respond that it doesn’t actually hinder free speech, or make humor impossible; it just makes everyone work harder at articulating their thoughts in a manner that doesn’t offend.
The purpose of political correctness is to be inclusive of all types of people. Jokes or phrases like “Women should stay in the kitchen!” and “Black people love chicken and watermelon!” that make entire groups of people (i.e. people different races, genders, nationalities, body types, abilities, etc.) a punchline are based on untrue and unfair tropes and stereotypes. Political correctness calls for society to be rid of these lazy ways of thinking and instead raise the standard of speech. It calls for people to stop presenting opinions as facts and begin to think about why exactly these negative ways of thinking are so present in our everyday lives. PC advocates refuse to allow people to get away with falling on racist, sexist, or bigoted viewpoints and stereotypes in speech. Because of this, those who are called out can feel unjustly attacked.
It can be difficult to let go of a line of thinking we’ve all been taught since birth. Some decide to reject the whole movement of political correctness instead of seeing if perhaps they could incorporate it into their lives slowly. Trying to adjust to being politically correct can also be seen as an almost insurmountable challenge because of how far ahead others are in this journey and how much there is to do. Sometimes, one can feel like they are being scrutinized constantly, with anyone and everyone waiting to see them slip up and call them out on it.
Though occasionally this does happen, this is largely not the case. PC supporters as a whole want not to tear down people who are not politically correct but to encourage and educate them to be more inclusive in everyday life. It is important to note, though, that having to constantly defend a movement while dealing with backlash from others who make no effort to understand can take its toil. Sometimes frustration or discouragement can manifest itself in anger or impatience*.
So how can one embrace PC culture? Start paying attention to what sayings or lines of thinking can offend or hurt other people. When someone says something you’ve said bothers them, instead of immediately going to your defense and explaining your thoughts, listen to them. Let your friends of marginalized groups speak about what they’ve experienced and how political correctness benefits them. Search for resources about being politically correct. Read what others have to say. Remember that even if it does not seem like a big deal to you (or if it seems like a hindrance) that if it weren’t important or helpful to many, it wouldn’t be such a widely supported topic.
Political correctness benefits many people, and does much more good than harm. It rids everyone of offensive tropes based on untrue stereotypes. It creates more inclusion and respect between different types of people. And to do that it only calls for a gradual change of one’s vocabulary. It is not a total policing of freedom of speech or a stripping of one’s entire vocabulary. Instead, it is an effort to be respectful and understand how words can hurt. PC culture is just another term for having basic respect for others. Now how do you feel about PC culture?
*This leads to a needed discussion about respectability politics, which is a very separate and often complicated topic.