Not Everyone Has the Privilege To Avoid the Political Correctness Debate

If we assume that political correctness means not offending anyone, it’s logical to conclude that progressives who focus on ending the use of slurs like “faggot,” “nigger” and “retard” are all about making everyone be nice to everyone else so that nobody gets hurt.

Wrong. Progressives are, in my experience, associated with moving forward, accommodating and championing historically marginalized groups. These goals are not about being nice to everyone or about sanitizing and censoring language so that nobody gets hurt. They’re about getting angry, attacking and breaking down the interlocking systems of inequality that oppress people of color, women, queer people, low-income people, disabled people, people living with mental illness and others who are essentially trampled upon, even unwittingly, by the more privileged classes. (For further reading, look up the term kyriarchy.)

Above all, the purpose of political correctness should be to appreciate the otherwise silenced voices around us and to create a culture in which people feel and are safe. People who are offended have their feelings hurt for a few minutes and then go on about their day with no tangible repercussions. People who are made to feel unsafe may be triggered, physically and emotionally, in traumatic ways by phrases which allude to brutal violence against women, people of color, queer people or others. People who are made to feel unsafe live in a world that teaches them, and the privileged people around them, through every rape joke, faggot joke or other inappropriate comment, that violence against marginalized people is OK, it is expected and it will be condoned by the privileged majority.

So, if you’re tired of hearing about and reading about the discourse on political correctness, bear in mind that many people are beyond tired of being marginalized, discriminated against and generalized about in ways that hinder their abilities to access health care, get affordable housing, land a well-paying job or gain the respect of their peers. You can close TSL any time you want and walk away. Not everyone has the privilege of walking away from this problem, so it is essential that we continue to grapple with the issue of language and the ways that it can help or hinder people’s abilities to live full, happy lives.

We are able to address and rectify social systems of inequality and discrimination only insofar as we can define, explore and critique them through precise, correct language. The correctness of our language and the precision of our communication directly affects the correctness and precision of our politics, and it is this interplay that renders political correctness essential in resolving the inequalities ingrained in our culture.

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