There is quite a lot of hubbub these days about the evils of political correctness. If we believe what is being said, then we should no longer have a filter on social or political discourse, that being politically correct is bad. I have even heard politicians and commentators say that being politically correct is corrupting our society. I refuse to believe that.
Social discourse and our democracy demands that we carefully consider our remarks and not defame people or inflame situations. Valid and constructive criticism is always appropriate and necessary but should be measured. Terms that degrade others have no place in our discussions. Let me consider a lifetime of experience.
When I was young, people with intellectual disability were referred to as “retarded.” Even worse names were often used—imbecile, retard, moron, idiot, and simpleton, to name a few. I did not understand the impact of using such terms and often used them. I am now embarrassed by my immature behavior and regret it. The use of those terms implies a less-than-human status for others and falsely elevates me to a greater level than my fellow citizens.
As I continue my introspection, I realize that I also used negative terms to refer to folks with physical disabilities, such as crip, cripple, spas, or spasmo. People with physical disabilities do not deserve to be referred to with demeaning and dehumanizing words. They are people, not ugly words.
Again in my youth, I used words to make fun of folks that were homosexual. I won’t repeat them here since they are offensive and raunchy. Additionally, terms that degrade one’s race or ethnicity are offensive and regrettable when used. Someone’s sexual orientation, the color of their skin, their language, or their accent does not define their humanity. Words do matter when referring to others.
So my life journey has taught me that words make a difference. The term “political correctness” (defined as the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against) has evolved during my adult years. The action of “being PC” (politically correct) has become part of the culture. And I think that the practice is to our benefit.
Let me provide some additional examples. When changes were made to some Dr. Seuss books, some people shouted “woke culture” implying that political correctness to remove offensive and racist images is a bad idea. Just because something was present in the past and nobody complained doesn’t mean that it should continue on unchallenged. When offensive materials are present, changing them is the only rational and humane response. Eliminating symbols of the Confederacy could be considered an act of political correctness. I consider it an act of patriotism to the USA and an act of reconciliation to the generations of people that were enslaved in our country and have suffered (and realistically continue to suffer). We have historically glamorized the Wild West and all of its ruggedness. When people have countered with the realistic narrative about the confiscation of Native American lands and systemic destruction of their cultures, there was an outcry of too much political correctness. Similar outcries have been heard recently as an honest reckoning of racism in America has been greeted with denial and refusal to understanding the importance of such a reckoning. Such a response whitewashes our history and denies so many past incidents that still resonate today—Rosa Parks on the bus, John Lewis at the Selma march, the Birmingham church bombing and death of 4 young girls, Emmet Till’s death in Mississippi, the death of freedom riders promoting voter registration, the AME Emmanuel Church massacre in Charleston SC, and so many, many more. The denial of history is a tragic consequence of the lack of grace and lack of acceptance of our common humanity. It only leads to further schism in our society at a time we are trying to heal, and it is antithetical to the teachings of faith-based living.
Under the guise of purposely not being PC, numerous politicians, commentators and fellow citizens are now rude, crude and disrespectful. They say that they “tell it like it is” or “call a spade a spade.” I have no problem with criticism. Criticism delivered in a civil manner is valid, helpful and can even be life-changing. Criticism delivered in an uncivil way (degrading, demeaning, disrespectful) only serves to inflame passions and foment hate. Calling people “losers” implies that our fellow citizens are either winner or losers. Really? We are all in this together and deserving of respect. Life circumstances can alter at any time and today’s “winner” could be tomorrow’s “loser” if one accepts that people are either winners or losers. I choose not to believe that.
What is equally disturbing is the acceptance of violence (threat or actual) as an expression of various grievances. Often when facts are twisted or lies confronted, the offending party yells and even threatens offensive actions or physical violence. How can this be seen as acceptable? Yet by inaction or silence, those that do not speak out and condemn such actions are complicit in their acceptance and growth. The acceptance and growth of violence in our society perpetuates the political rift in our society. Violence only serves to allow hate and selfishness to fester.
So, political correctness is ok and necessary in my view. It serves to adjust our moral compass on an episodic basis. Can it be overdone? Sure, but if one’s criticism and/or remarks about our fellow citizens are respectful, being PC is still a good thing. Not only is it a good thing, it is a necessary component of a civil society and democracy such as ours. After all, civility is the hallmark of citizens of faith. Citizens of faith care about how they treat each other. It is the correct thing to do.