At the first Republican presidential debate earlier this month, moderator Megyn Kelly asked candidate Donald Trump about his history of calling women horrible, degrading names. After first making a joke about how he only calls Rosie O’Donnell those names, Trump then stated that he doesn’t have time for being “politically correct.” This response drew cheers, and raised the question of what exactly it means to be politically correct — and why so many people in our society seem to think that being politically correct is such a bad thing.
At its heart, political correctness is about treating people with respect. It has become shorthand, however, for the idea that people are overly sensitive and that their concerns don’t deserve to be addressed seriously. In one writer’s words, it is defined not by what it describes, but by how it is used: “as a way to dismiss a concern or demand as a frivolous grievance rather than a real issue.” Typically, the people who are told that they are too “politically correct” are the people with the least amount of power in our society — women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community. When we dismiss the concerns of these marginalized communities, we are refusing to address the merits of what they are saying. If a person says that something is racist, for example,
responding that you aren’t “politically correct” is a way to get out of actually talking about whether or not that thing is racist. It is a way to say that an issue has no value, that it isn’t worth talking about — and that the person who thinks that the issue is actually important is just too sensitive and their concerns are completely unimportant.
Intentionally avoiding “political correctness” has become shorthand for some people as a way of being more “forthright or genuine.” But this attitude has been used in a variety of ways to devalue others’ opinions and even their right to basic respect. In 2014, the Gamergate controversy included targeting of women for online harassment and threats. When the women involved went public with their experiences, their concerns were dismissed as simple “political correctness” and them being “social justice warriors.” At this month’s debate, Donald Trump refused to respond to allegations that he is misogynist and sexist — because he “doesn’t have time for” political correctness. Does he really not have time to refrain from calling women “disgusting,” “fat
pig,” “dog,” and more? Or is it basic human decency and respect to not do such things? If you substitute “treating people with respect,” for “political correctness,” then you get to the real heart of what Trump was
saying — he doesn’t have time to treat people with respect. Given how he later attacked Megyn Kelly and strongly implied than she must have been hormonal during the debate, it is
clear that this is the case. For him and far too many others, saying that you are not “politically correct” is just an excuse to engage in hateful, disrespectful speech.
One New Zealander has taken matters into his own hands, creating a browser extension that
replaces “political correctness” with “treating people with respect.” The results are telling:
When you substitute one phrase for the other, “political correctness” certainly looks different, doesn’t it? But this is how the phrase should be defined — treating people with respect. If someone does not want to do that — if she or he refuses to take another person’s concerns seriously, and wants to dismiss them out of hand — then shouldn’t that person be forced to admit as much? Stop using political correctness as an excuse for bad behavior and hateful, disrespectful speech. Start listening to and engaging with people, and — above everything else — treating them with respect!
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