In Defense of Political Correctness
Trump Campaigned Against P.C. Culture
Political Correctness - Good Intentions
Personally, I have never liked the proverb -
"the road to hell is paved with good intentions".
Good intentions are their own justification.
Political correctness has good intentions; it sometimes fails in execution.
- Change is clumsy.
- Change is uncomfortable.
- Change causes animosity.
- Change requires consistent practice.
- Yet, change is one of the few constants life offers.
Society is changing, it wants to be better, more inclusive, less marginalizing. Donald Trump's appeals to regressive old attitudes about race and language decency is alarming; his rise to the Presidency of The United States is evidence that not only should political correctness matter, but it is critical for America to mature psychologically and emotionally. Trump's overtly bigoted pandering to the juvenile, fearful, narrow-minded mob. Manipulating their fears with incorrigible racism and misogyny is validating for a specific group of people that want their reactionary views legitimized.
Political correctness, even in its annoying, bumbling awkward application, political correctness is a necessary shift for public language. In a culture where perception matters, like here in the United States, making the effort to change the language is crucial to our maturing as a society.
Language and the tone we inhabit in our social discourse is critically important. Language that is inclusive, respectful. Words and terms that don't diminish, demean or depreciate ones social status. Language can marginalize groups, language can also help restore the previously socially marginalized.
Political correctness is why 'retarded' is now 'learning disabled'. 'Retarded' had become a pejorative in American culture, a school yard bully term used to demean. Political correctness is why there are no more actresses, women are simply actors, no more comediennes, only comedians, no more songstresses, only singers or vocalists.
Political correctness can also be absurd. 'Thought shower' was coined as a politically correct term for 'brainstorm'. Brain storm was thought to be insensitive to those with epileptic disorder. 'Differently abled' was concocted to be politically correct for handicapped.
Everything can be taken to its ridiculous extreme, even Political Correctness. Reject the absurdities, not the concept.
The major motivation of political correctness is amending language and tone around race and gender, hoping society evolves to a more equitable relationship with each other.
Political Correctness - Self Determination
Political correctness in its present context was born in the "new left" movement of the 1960s and '70s. This new left formulated after the classic leftist, socialist and communist structures were decimated by the paranoid, unconsitutional McCarthyism of the 1950s. The classic or 'old left' was more focused on workers rights, the relationship of labor to capital. Social/cultural issues were acknowledged, but not their major focus.
The new left emerged from college campuses. Academia was much more resistant to anti-constitutional suppression of thought. Students were freer to explore and experiment with alternative ideologies and their application. So, in the ashes of the classic vanguard socialist and communist left, wrecked by McCarthyism, the new left formed.
Political correctness in its present context is widely attributed to writer Toni Cade Bambara, in her essay , Toni wrote: The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970)
"a man cannot be politically correct and a [male] chauvinist, too."
Progressives and leftists often used to the term in their own circles, as a reminder of their own resistance to trans-formative cultural change. The term - politically correct - became PC in leftist circles, but wasn't in mainstream usage until the 1980s and the Reagan administration's resistance to it. That resistance was founded on the resurgent conservative movement's war on academia. After the momentous gains of the left from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, Reagan's election symbolized a conservative backlash, a regression. Activism on college campuses became non-existent. Social movements that were starting to find a voice in government and the media hit a stone wall with the election of Reagan and the conservative revolution. Gil Troy of the - Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History writes:
"Critics consider the Reagan Revolution reactionary, an assault against the great liberal gains that, over the previous fifty years, had democratized and humanized America. They claim Reagan widened the gap between rich and poor, encouraged greed, and threatened the accomplishments of the civil rights, feminist, and environmental movements. The intensity of the ongoing debate more than three decades after his inauguration demonstrates the Reagan Revolution’s continuing resonance."
Resistance to PC culture was to conservatives, resistance to the ideas and efforts of the left in general, and academia in particular, it continues to this day.
Freedom of Speech - Not Freedom From Consequences
There are few if any laws mandating political correctness, nor should there be. Activists and academics provided us with a linguistic framework for social equality, while still acknowledging each person's unique expression and challenges. PC is not melting pot "we're all the same" American disingenuous platitude. PC is founded in the spirit of the cultural mosaic, community cultural strength through diversity. Individuals don't have to contort themselves to 'blend in' to the melting pot, people are able to express their full uniqueness in a mosaic society.
The standardized version of what an American is changes. What represents an American becomes a broader, more inclusive vision. Expanding that vision requires language changes.
Those language changes are not codified legally, they're slowly, sometimes discouraging and even a woefully painful striving to become cultural norms. The personal consequences of not at least trying to be PC are not legal ones, they're social. Ones livelihood can be adversely affected. However, the 1st amendment is protection against legal consequences. Which is the the largest misnomer about PC. One is not legally responsible for being non-PC.
The 1st amendment is constitutionally protected speech. However, the 1st amendment does not offer protection from the social consequences of speech. The bill of rights free speech assurances does not translate to employment, business relationships or social interactions. Such is the natural order, those that refuse to acknowledge or make the effort in the face of trans-formative change endure consequences, social, not legal consequences.
PC is awkward, its proponents can be overbearing, but PC signifies the next chapter in humanity's social evolution. As PC evolves itself, it will be less bumbling, its proponents will become less strident and demanding. PC will develop a grace of its own, as society begins to appreciate the beauty, the resilience, of a diverse, more dialectic-ally thoughtful society.
All Change is Initially Ridiculed
Presently PC is Mainly Ridiculed
While researching this piece it was exceedingly difficult to find any sources that were supportive of PC. What came to mind is the south of the 1950s. One would have been hard-pressed to find any sources that supported integration.
Momentous courage over several decades brought civil and voting rights to the disenfranchised. Although I'm not proposing legal remedies for speech mandating PC, even if it were legally possible. I believe in humanity collectively, I believe the majority of people want to be equitable, want inclusiveness and empathetic relations to diverse others. The forces of regression are loud, shrill...even boastful now. I think it the last desperate stand of bigots.
Youngsters on college campuses have found their voices again, after decades of relative silence. Publicly those young folks embrace PC, if not personally.
I am optimistic.
© 2016 Duane Townsend