In Support of Political Correctness
By: Madeline Corolla
Political correctness has long been a subject of much disagreement. While some regard the term as an instrument used to protect others’ fragile, sensitive emotions, my support for political correctness stems from the beliefs that objectivity is unattainable and that words are never vacant; they are vessels of significance and cultural meaning. Words have the ability to shape our worldviews and how we act upon them, encompassing policy writing and daily interactions. Because of this, it is imperative for words to accurately represent people, places, and situations, which is what political correctness advocates for. It is built on the premise that language is never just sound but is instead an emblem of a culture that we influence and are impacted by.
I think that to understand political correctness, it’s necessary to recognize the impossibility of removing emotion from personhood and that our worldviews are in fact always biased. The positions and lenses in which we view and synthesize our surroundings come in part from our backgrounds, socialization within a certain culture, and experiences. Therefore, I regard “telling it like it is,” which is often used to relay the unbiased, unfiltered, objective truth, as a disclaimer employed to avoid accountability because our “truths” come from somewhere. Furthermore, we cannot completely distance ourselves from feeling if we wish to have opinions because thoughts are created from emotions and informed by experience. Science and math are not exceptions either; these fields may be built on data and systematic analysis, but they are also made up of people– from different places, beliefs, and positions. While life can be quantified in various ways, someone gets to decide which numbers matter and what each number means; someone creates the thresholds, acceptable ranges, desirable values. Because of this, I believe that it’s necessary to accept that we are all biased in some capacity and understand how these biases and experiences inform how we interpret, use, and act on language.
As I said previously, words are powerful in their ability to shape culture. One U.S. example is the gender binary, which is presented as universal through dichotomous language: boy/girl, man/woman. Each term comes with a set of expectations and norms, and those who transgress these boundaries experience policing ranging from casual comments and disapproving stares to hate crimes. The binary is reinforced through language and maintains salience through the cultural meanings we ascribe to gender identities, indicating how definitions and understandings influence perceptions and actions.
To put this into the context of political correctness, because language is influential, accurate representations are quintessential. For example, if we allow Mexican immigrants to be branded as rapists and drug dealers, then we wrongly associate immigrants and people of color with danger and erase the majority of them who arrive to the United States seeking refuge or opportunity. Furthermore, we do not fully acknowledge the drug trafficking and sexual assault that occur in the United States by natural-born citizens. This can translate into hate crimes, implicit biases in job hiring/ promotions, and other exclusionary behaviors. Similarly, if we employ the term “Islamic terrorism,” then we misunderstand that terrorism belongs to no religion, a misunderstanding evidenced by hate crimes as well as proposed Muslim bans and patrolling of Muslim neighborhoods. These illustrations reveal that language influences our perceptions and inspire action. From understanding that language and worldviews are intertwined, I support political correctness because it works to prevent hateful, unrepresentative speech from turning into actions and policies that further divide us.