Political Correctness: What Does it Really Mean and Why Does it Matter?

Political Correctness: What Does it Really Mean and Why Does it Matter?


What is Political Correctness?

If you haven’t noticed, political correctness has had a lot of attention in media in the recent years. There’s been a surge of interest in it over the past decade and there are some mixed reviews. It has been painted as an extreme, ridiculous term that far-left Millennials will throw in people’s faces when they’re deemed rude. Is that really what it is though? No, not at all. The term has had the same bad make-over as the term “feminist” and it is hard to subvert people’s current understanding of the concept. Being politically correct is incredibly simple, it is just not being offensive and not marginalising groups of people. Obviously, it’s impossible not to offend someone at some point, you’ll probably offend someone when you’re trying not to offend someone else. However, that is not the goal of political correctness, no matter what current media tells us. So what is the goal and why does it matter?

Let’s look at some past examples. Racial slurs have always been considered rude and derogatory insults during my 20 years of life and for many decades beforehand. The n-word has been around for a couple of centuries and it has never been meant in any way other than a derogatory slur for black people. Since the 1960’s it has been considered inappropriate and unacceptable to be used by anyone; although a form of it is used by black people as a way of reclamation and fighting the racism created by that word.

Homophobic and transphobic slurs have been unacceptable to use since the 80’s, words like fag and transvestite are not acceptable terms today, nor were they really ever acceptable. The majority of people do not protest this because 1. it’s not their say if they aren’t a part of the community, and even then they don’t speak for the whole community and 2. they are aware of the original meaning of the word and it’s original intent when being used.

It would seem that we had tackled most problems when it comes to being politically correct because we know as a society that it’s wrong to be offensive. However, with more access to information and opinions due to the expansion of the media, there has been an increase in groups of people that deserve the political correctness we treat others with. This has not made the process of being politically correct more difficult, it just requires the consideration of more people, yet people seem to be incredibly upset by this.

One of the main arguments people who are against being politically correct use is the infringing upon their “freedom of speech”. While in Canada and the U.S. there is the right to freedom of speech, nobody is actually taking away the ability to say or do things that would be deemed politically incorrect. You can use racial slurs, you can marginalise people if you want to, but you have to accept that people will disagree with your actions and exercise their right to free speech by speaking out against you. And why is there such a need to use these terms or marginalise people anyway? Why are people in such a panic to ensure they are allowed to discriminate against or insult people?

Now there are more terms, more groups of people, and society is acting like it is such a hardship to just not say certain words and not do certain things. It’s not an addiction, you can stop whenever you like.  When you’re at work and your boss is being an asshole do you really struggle to not call them an asshole? Do you consider petitioning the government to allow you to insult your boss freely as it is free speech? Probably not because you understand that it is inappropriate, but this understanding does not extend to groups of people who are different than you.

Political Correctness and the Government

If there is one influential person who has incited more anger over the concept of political correctness than most it would be Donald Trump. He has many times stated that we cannot afford to be politically correct as if being politically correct is a luxury only afforded by an elite group of people. Not insulting, offending, or marginalising people is not an extravagance that many people cannot afford, it is as affordable as being polite, as thanking someone for a gift, as breathing air. You just do it. Many times he has stated his views on the matter, in regards to the London attacks on June 3rd he tweeted:

To him, the concern was not that there was an attack but that people did not want to marginalise a group of people of whom the terrorists shared an ethnicity with. And while a more strict response to terrorism would be beneficial as there is a better chance of prevention of future attacks, being politically correct is not what is causing the terrorism. People aren’t killing others because the others were trying to be the least offensive they could be, terrorism is caused by a feeling of injustice against a group of people. So why then is it being politically correct that is the concern here? If you are politically correct then there is less chance of injustice against others.

Trump is arguing that being politically correct lessens the security of a country because the government is more concerned with not marginalising and offending people than they are with ensuring their people are safe. If the government were to go the route of what Trump wants then they would be punishing innocent people for what a small number did. It would be the equivalent of putting Jeffrey Dahmer’s family in jail with him because they share the same blood and therefore also could be serial killers. Restricting a group who experiences injustice because of a few criminals in that group is just adding more reason for them to want to commit terrorism.

Being politically correct is not a hardship, it is not a difficult task. There are some grey areas where you may be uncertain as to what really is inappropriate, but these areas are easy enough to navigate if you just ask the right questions. It is not that difficult to not be a dick to people. You cannot treat people with disrespect and then be shocked that they are upset.

The real question though is whether being politically correct actually works and the short answer is: yes. It really works, real political correctness, not the extreme definition that people understand it to be today. It is simply not insulting people, marginalising groups, restricting them, or doing anything against them that causes a disruption in the fairness amongst groups of people. Does extreme political correctness work? No. Being politically correct cannot and does not apply to every single situation in life; you cannot live your entire life without offending or being unfair to a person or group. The point of being politically correct is to not go out of your way to offend or disrupt equality amongst groups and people. At the same time though it does not mean going out of your way to not offend someone to an extreme. Not being chivalrous doesn’t mean you’re not being politically correct, being politically correct requires the absolute least effort possible, it requires human decency and that’s something everyone should possess (although not everyone does).

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