Categorized | Viewpoints

Language: it’s political

Alex Kaufmann

I would like to preface this article by stating that I personally do not like the term “politically correct” or any variation of it. I think using this term to refer to using language that conveys a minimum amount of respect to other individuals makes it easy to write off as unnecessary, unrequired and something that everyone doesn’t need to be doing. However, I will use the term “politically correct,” and variations of it throughout this article, both because it indicates specific speech habits and practices, and because it has been discussed in the Voice recently.

Using politically correct speech is vital for discussing important issues including race, gender, sexuality, disability and many other topics. Employing politically correct language while discussing any of these issues shows that you have a basic level of respect for the participants in the discussion, and that you actually value their perspectives and input. Writing off politically correct language as unnecessary indicates that you don’t care enough for the individuals involved in the discussion to address them or the topic with respect, and should be seen as lazy and disrespectful.

I have heard from many people throughout my life that political correctness gets in the way of these discussions and that it limits one’s right to free speech. I personally view both of these responses as nothing short of ridiculous. What really limits discussions on these topics is the fear that someone will be called racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., and instead of confronting this issue with open and honest dialogue, it is shut down by individuals belonging to a privileged group who fear being called these terms. Instead of worrying about being called racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., one should really worry about the underlying issue. If you say something that elicits a response that you are racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., you probably said something that was offensive. Instead of reacting defensively, you should reflect on why what you said may be offensive. Rather than blaming it on oversensitivity, you should wonder if what you said was insensitive and why.

Saying that political correctness is a limit on free speech is also ridiculous. There is no legislative body is creating a law that takes away your right to free speech when someone calls you out for being offensive. It must be remembered that in this country, we do have freedom of speech, but no one is guaranteed freedom from reaction. As an individual, you have a right to say whatever you want, but you do not have a right that protects you from the consequences of your words. This is especially true in regard to political correctness — you are always responsible for what you say and should not complain if you are called out for using offensive language.

I know that we all come from vastly different backgrounds and have been raised in different environments. Many of us upon entering campus our first year were unaware that many of the words used in our daily lives at home are not acceptable. However, as a community of scholars, we should constantly strive to better ourselves, and this includes the language that we use. Saying something deemed politically incorrect and being called out on not being politically correct is not the end of the world, and it does not mean that you are a bad person. No one is expecting you to know everything. However, refusing to learn about offensive language and why you should not use it shows that you have little respect for other individuals in your community, and would rather use inflammatory words than properly discuss issues in our community.

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