Everyone has heard it at some point: “I hate political correctness.” Usually it’s intertwined with an anti-censorship, pro-freedom of speech rhetoric to truly villainize people who are just too “PC.” In reality, to be PC is to take into account how one’s words can and do affect other people in often irreparable ways.
Surely freedom of speech is one of the greatest liberties any society can hope to have. It grants us the right to express our ideas and create a dialogue without the threat of political persecution. If the government were allowed to censor its people, it would give itself free range to do as it pleases, knowing that it would not be held accountable since its people would be punished if they were to speak up.
However, people tend to get confused, and many believe freedom of speech also means freedom to be an insensitive hate-mongerer. This is not true. If someone casually utters a slur, someone who has been harmed by that word has every right to call them out and demand an apology. Freedom of speech doesn’t end with the initial speaker, it also protects those who criticize the speaker, allowing a dialogue.
Decriers of the idea of political correctness, at best, just resent the notion of censorship, which is reasonable. At worst, they do not understand the world around them nor its history. Consider the simple act of not saying slurs and substituting one term over another to avoid highly charged wording, such as “intellectually disabled” over “mentally retarded.” At no cost to the person speaking they are considering the feelings of someone who might be hurt by a specific term. However, once the speaker thinks they’re being PC and therefore censored, they will want control and use the debasing term out of a misguided sense of justice and will no longer think about who they’re harming.
Perhaps for some people it seems like an infringement on their own freedom to be asked to alter their vocabulary, but it is all done for the inclusivity of the larger populace. Every person has the right to enter any space and be safe to move around as they please without becoming a target of hate. Those who are anti-PC bemoan how easily offended others can be, a spoil-sport to their own fun. This ignorance reveals their place of privilege, having never felt the true weight certain words can hold to a group of people. A slur’s definition can’t be easily changed.
The blog Queer Guess Code brings another perspective that bigots can hide behind PC language, and that “political correctness doesn’t teach people to be mindful of problems in the way they think; it teaches them to avoid “offending people.” A valid point to be sure, but it is nearly impossible for someone to mindfully keep a slur out of their mouth and not understand why this is necessary. Not only that, but a change in behavior can lead to a change in attitude. A person who uses racist slurs may at first resent a cut in their vocabulary, but soon they internalize this cut, and any racism they have normalized in themselves will slowly disappear as they start to use more appropriate language and see the world through a different lens.
Follow Edith Lagos on Twitter: @LagosTacos