If I had a nickel for every time someone deemed me as “too PC,” I’d be a very rich woman. Political correctness basically means that, before you open your mouth, you consider how your words will impact others (i.e. racism, sexism, etc.). You’re thoughtful, and you realize that words are not simply a meaningless conglomeration of letters and sounds.
Of course, nobody’s perfect. Most have, at some point in their lives, made a problematic comment that they probably regret. But imperfection is never an excuse to perpetuate oppression. Because we were all socialized in a racist, cishet patriarchal society, it’s important to constantly check and learn from one’s behavior. We have a collective responsibility to create a world that recognizes the full humanity of all people.
Being “politically correct,” though, is generally not celebrated nor encouraged. Typically used as a pejorative, the phrase “PC culture” has been routinely implemented to delegitimize marginalized populations’ experiences and efforts to dismantle oppressive systems. Although we generally think of conservative, right-wing public figures as the main disparagers of political correctness, white, male, liberal individuals also use this damaging rhetoric.
Jerry Seinfeld made headlines a couple years ago for vowing not to perform at “PC colleges.”
“I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me: ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC,’” he said. “They just want to use these words: ‘that’s racist,’ ‘that’s sexist,’ ‘that’s prejudiced.’ They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
Apparently Seinfeld, a rich, white man, is the arbiter on what constitutes as racist, sexist or prejudiced. College students, many of which are people of color and women who experience racism and sexism on a daily basis, know what we’re talking about due to lived experiences those with privileged identities simply cannot relate to.
Additionally, Bill Maher, who has consistently opposed “PC culture,” recently received criticism for having Milo Yiannopoulos on his show Real Time with Bill Maher for normalizing the former editor of Breitbart, a right-wing media company known for publishing racist, sexist, transphobic content.
Language is central to how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. Words have consequences. They can be used for good—creating a healthy dialogue meant to advance social change. Conversely, language can also reinforce power structures. Offensive rhetoric that targets marginalized populations should be viewed as unacceptable and harmful, not simply a difference of opinion.