We as Americans need to become more sensitive to our use of language because with the increasing number of ethnic groups in the country one has to be cautious as to how they should define a certain group. Political correctness is a type of medium that helps us come to respect and communicate with the diverse group of races and cultures.
Before we go on any further we must first define the meaning of political correctness. According to Webster’s Dictionary, political correctness is the ideology that shows sensitivity, tolerance, and respect for another’s race, gender, sexual preference, nationality, religion, age, physical handicap, or other especially if it differs from one’s own. In other words, political correctness (better known as PC) is behavior and speech manifested in people of all race and culture that reflects an open-minded attitude towards other people present within the society today. For example, being ‘PC’; refers to using phrases as ‘physically challenged’; instead of ‘disabled’; and ‘Asian’; rather than ‘Oriental.’;
This term originated, interestingly enough, after the Civil Rights Movement and during the birth of modern feminism when many minority groups were fighting for their rights as Americans. The meaning of the words was not as significant back then as they are now. Political correctness has a completely different meaning today and it holds a lot of truths to it because it gives us that leverage to appropriately address someone without offending him or her. Many people these days are using the politically correct terms, especially business people, teachers, politicians, journalists, etc. It is sad to say that there are many more people whom simply do not realize what they say can be insulting.
There are many examples in today’s society where people haven’t been considerate of other people’s feelings and have been extremely un-PC. Most recently the so-called ‘shock jock’;, Doug Tracht who works in Washington DC, played music by Lauryn Hill on his radio show (MSNBC local news online). Hill is the black hip-hop artist nominated for 10 Grammy awards. On air, he remarked ‘No wonder people drag them behind trucks.’; The statement referred to the brutal death of a black man in Texas who was dragged behind a truck. This is not the first time Tracht has gotten in trouble for a racial remark. In 1986 at another local radio station, Tracht made a derogatory remark about Martin Luther King day. That radio station was picketed and received bomb threats from angry people before Tracht made an on-air apology. But the Lauryn Hill remark topped him over the edge and he was fired. This insensitivity was unnecessary and upset a lot of people.
Another example of a more public ignorance is the name of the Washington DC pro-football team the Redskins (The Washington Post). There are other examples in public schools, other sports teams and even restaurant names. This name is very upsetting to many people and especially to Native Americans. There are many protests that urge the capitol to change the mascot, but still is left unchanged. What does this say about Washington DC, if even our own capitol can’t be politically correct. What an embarrassment! Calling someone by a name that has the implication of negative connotations can be considered a hate crime, which is a serious offense.
Political correctness should be used as many places as possible, and it should be enforced in businesses, schools, universities, firms, sports as well as sports. Politically correct terms should be used ubiquitously, if possible. In these kinds of atmospheres it is pertinent and substantive to be politically correct because if one uses a word that is considered to be a racial slur by others, not only does one look like a bigot, but unprofessional as well. Being politically correct is very important to people because it delivers a sense of comfort and acceptance.
A further example are the African-Americans, who in this country were oppressed, repressed and suppressed for so long and have been stigmatized with the name, ‘nigger,’; which was prevalently used by the white masters who owned black slaves. This word has a very derogatory meaning and it just simply belittles the entire black race. Words we use in everyday conversation matters a lot and it does make a difference whether one says ‘nigger’; or ‘black’; because this disparaging word shows a hostile attitude and ignorance. It makes me cringe even when I read it in this paper. But sometimes, and in some cases, this word can be used among blacks as a way of manifesting their camaraderie and as a racist epithet by whites.
Bennie M. Currie put it best when he wrote, ‘the love/hate relationship many black people have with nigger, one of the most complex, perplexing, and emotionally incendiary words in the American lexicon’; (194). Today, if an Afro-American is called a ‘nigger’; by a white person, despite the fact that it is the nineties, the insult becomes like a dagger through the heart. It is very hurtful because those single words can evoke thoughts of slavery, struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, and the racism and hate that still haunt the nation. It brings back all the grief, sorrow, and pain that their ancestors had to go through for freedom.
On the contrary, if a black person calls another person black ‘nigger’;, sometimes it is absolutely okay because it is another way of saying my friend or my brother. Currie says: ‘Blacks took the loaded term nigger and disarmed it by making it a household word. In fact, we went on to embrace it by using it to spice up poetry, rap lyrics, and many comedy stand-up routine’; (195).
Some are opposed to political correctness, mostly whites, because they feel that people take it to an extreme. They say that if a self-respecting black man can use it, why can’t they, and why is it a taboo for them if they were ever to refer to a black person as ‘nigger.’; The answer is very rudimentary because history dictates that the white race kidnapped and brought native Africans against their will, no less, to work on their plantation. The word ‘nigger’; represents slavery and inferiority, which everyone is willing to acknowledge. With this in mind, no black person in their right state of mind is going to let a white person call him or her a ‘nigger’;. Whites for have oppressed Black people for so long and using an insult like ‘nigger’; is like being treated as if he or she was a slave once again.
As we come to a better understanding of the races and cultures which surround us we have to look at the positive aspects of political correctness such as having a bias-free English language, which would lead to a more civilized race.People who are against political correctness argue that many PC phrases are unfamiliar, lengthy and more ambiguous than the former. This makes it cumbersome to implement and requires too much effort to think of the correct phrases to use.
People who don’t like political correctness also say forcefully that by imposing political correctness on the general public, it in turn threatens the First Amendment, our freedom of speech. Such people need just to learn to change and that is that. The use of a word may be more cumbersome, but also may save someone’s dignity, so then figure out which one is a better reason. Another point is that the people who don’t want to change tend to be the ones hurting people, rather than actually being hurt.
Political correctness should be adopted throughout the country in addition to the whole world to develop a happier and more respectful society. Maybe the purpose of having political correctness is so that everyone could live in harmony where racial boundaries are not crossed and we could live in this ideal utopian society.
Atwan, Robert, ed. America Now: 3rd edition. Bedford: Boston Books: 1999.
(Currie, Bennie M. ‘The N-Word and How to Use It’; The Chicago Reader, Dec 19,1997).
Beckwith, Francis J. and Michael E. Bauman. Are You Politically Correct?:Debating America’s Cultural Sandards. Buffalo, N.Y.:Prometheus Books, 1993.
‘Censorship vs. Freedom of Speech’;. http://www.cs.nott.ac.uk/axs96m/pqi/argumenta.html (12 Feb 1999).
‘Greaseman Fired After Racist Remark’;. http://www.msnbc.com/local/WRC/224250.asp#BODY (24 Feb. 1999).
Pressley, Sue Anne. ‘Use of Indian Mascot Brings Justice Dept. to N.C. Town’; Washington Post 17 Feb. 1999: A3.
Webster’s Dictionary, 1998 edition.
‘What is Political Correctness?’;. http://www.cs.cott.ac.uk/axs96m/pqi/whatis.html (12 Feb 1999).