Ever since I started writing about autism, I’ve become more aware of and more sensitive to other systems of oppression. After writing extensively about the role of language in propagating ableism, I’ve especially become more sensitive to such use in other systems of oppression. In racism/white supremacy, there’s the tendency of White Americans to call the indigenous people of America ‘Indians,’ rather than the term ‘Native Americans,’ because that fits the narrative of the White Americans and disregards the history of the indigenous tribes. In sexism, there’s the recent popularization of the word ‘bitch’ to, in a twisted turn of events, positively describe a female – by describing her negatively, that is.
I try to bring these issues into any discussion I have with people and they often accuse me of trying to make the conversation ‘too politically correct’ in this regard, which makes political correctness sound like a hobgoblin. People have been criticized for having no respect for others in conversation, which makes sense, but when have we started criticizing people for trying to foster on environment of respect for others? Since when was it uncool to be mindful of others and their experience?
Perhaps I should say something about the origin of the term ‘politically correct.’ The term was originally used to describe members of the Communist Party who adhere to the overly dogmatic principles of Communism. The idea was that to the Party’s followers, there was only one correct stance and whoever took that stance was ‘politically correct.’ The use of the term in describing Communists was meant to be insulting, of course; this is where the pejorative nature of the term comes from.
Now it has been reappropriated by the right wing as a means of smearing their ideological enemies (by subtly but incorrectly comparing them to Communists…) while avoiding the responsibility of engaging in meaningful debate. For example, in the hollow and reactionary ‘War on Christmas,’ right-wing pundits had described the effort to use the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ in place of ‘Merry Christmas’ as too politically correct. Other than construing the effort as a personal attack on their beliefs, the argument doesn’t go beyond that.
Essentially, ‘politically correct’ is a clever right-wing term designed to dismiss rather than engage and its use speaks to our desire to appear tough and edgy (that’s the genius behind it). It frees one from the responsibility of actually being conscious of the implications of the words one uses and ultimately works to justify one’s ignorance and one’s incorrect and/or offensive use of words. Attacking an argument simply because it allegedly makes steps toward ‘political correctness,’ however that may be defined, is a logical fallacy in that it does not meaningfully address the actual argument and depends upon something other than reason to be considered a legitimate point.
In addition, it only serves the person using the term, portraying themselves as someone who engages in controversy or outdated ideas (usually in the name of ‘the truth’) while trying to appear noble or wise. Do not be fooled by the jerk in maverick’s clothing. In reality, it’s tricky to convincingly appear noble and wise while saying controversial things, repeating outdated ideas, or upholding archaic traditions. These are people who reasonably wish to exercise their right to free speech yet don’t want to take any responsibility for the consequences of what they say.
To the people who say that I’m too sensitive in these matters, I say that it’s better to be overly sensitive than to be desensitized.