Political correctness is destroying this country — but not in the way you think. It isn’t the principles of political correctness that are impeding dialogue and change, but the name itself.
“Political correctness,” as a term, implies division. It assigns common courtesy and politeness a spot on the political spectrum. It seems to refer to a covering up or a watering down.
Its name is reminiscent of the effects of Wite-Out correction fluid on a paper rife with grammatical errors — as if it is something that hides the unsavory truth with a false coat of purity. But perhaps the biggest problem with the term political correctness is that no one is able to agree on what exactly it means.
In both conservative and liberal circles, political correctness is often seen as something bad or extreme. This misconception swells from a lack of universal understanding about what political correctness entails.
For conservatives, political correctness is equivalent to censorship. For some liberals, it means taking care to hold your tongue. And for everyone, it seems to be a problem. More in Common is a self-described “international initiative to build societies and communities that are stronger, more united, and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarization and social division.”
In October, the organization released the results of a study called Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape. The study surveyed 8,000 Americans from diverse backgrounds and varying political views to find out more about the issues that divide the United States.
Of the 8,000 interviewees, a majority called political correctness a “problem in society.” In defense of the term, More in Common failed to define what they meant by political correctness. Given how the media coverage of the term is often negative, it’s understandable that the majority of those surveyed would call in a problem based solely off the negative context in which the term most often appears.
Influential Conservative provocateur Ben Shapiro has repeatedly attacked political correctness. He’s even used the aforementioned study as evidence of why it’s bad. What made Donald Trump’s campaign so popular was how many perceived it as “politically incorrect.”
He called political correctness a “big problem” in the United States during the 2015 Republican candidate debate. Fox News has negatively covered it, and a Washington Post writer labeled it a major weakness of the Democratic Party prior to the midterms.
It’s a rare day when political correctness is praised, so it’s completely understandable that those surveyed called it a problem. If progressives truly want a society that’s inclusive and thoughtful, we need to take the step to stop calling politeness and common courtesy “political correctness.”
Similarly, we need to stop calling statements that are crude and offensive “politically incorrect.” When we label rhetoric that is racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, and/or xenophobic as politically incorrect, we are implying to some extent, in some context, that it is correct. That is unacceptable.
The addition of the word “politically” to the front of correct/incorrect seems to say that the statement we are describing is only correct or incorrect in a political forum. Calling a racist statement politically incorrect is basically the same thing as labeling it something improper to say but acceptable to believe.
Calling cruelty politically incorrect is a weak argument against it. It almost supports the cruelty and gives it a pass. It’s coded as “this individual shouldn’t have said that horrible thing, but to some extent, that horrible thing is correct.”
When you combat offensive and incorrect statements by calling them politically incorrect, you’re complicit in a culture that allows bigotry to slide under the radar. Witnesses of bigoted behavior are directly responsible for labeling it as such. The second you start lying to yourself about what constitutes bigotry is the same second you stop fighting for change.
Eamon Morris PZ ‘22 is from Orange, CA. His blood type is black coffee.