By: Kate Kasica
Political correctness refers to using language that society has deemed acceptable or non-offensive and is usually used when talking about controversial topics. Its nickname, PC, is often used as a jab when people are said to be overly sensitive or unable to take a joke. I have often heard it when my older relatives speak about old TV shows or comedians, explaining that the jokes or dialogue wouldn’t “pass” today. PC culture is usually blamed for the destruction of comedy because many offensive jokes are no longer seen as acceptable. Due to associations like these, PC has become a keyword used to justify ignorance. But there is much more to PC than these negative connotations.
PC works to ensure that marginalized groups are referred to or treated respectfully in conversations. It gives those who are concerned with ensuring that they will not be offensive a language to still talk about sometimes taboo topics. PC culture defines which terms are outdated and hurtful, and creates new and more inclusive terms. Above all else PC is prominent in the labeling of people, meaning that it focuses on the language that defines groups or individuals. This can be incredibly important when speaking on topics such as race, as it is a sensitive and very loaded topic. Using discussions on race to further analyze PC showcases how some argue that PC creates an easier space to talk about these topics, while others say the complete opposite.
How does it make discussions on race easier?
PC provides language and terminology that allows marginalized groups to feel respected in a discussion. Discussions with the dominant group in society (white people) can be incredibly hard for those who have directly dealt with racism. These discussions are hard due to the emotional labor that white people expect of POC. Racism is a very real and prominent issue in our society, one that is deeply significant in the lives and experiences of POC. This makes discussions an emotional hardship, but this is often overlooked by white people. Using language that is respectful removes many of the barriers created between the dominant and marginalized groups during discussions. By overcoming these obstacles discussions can yield more results. Respect creates a space in which everyone can participate.
How does it make discussions on race harder?
PC is also said to have the exact opposite effect. By only being concerned with someone’s exact language the message is often lost. When someone is unsure about their idea, PC can cause them to shy away from sharing or asking due to the fear of offending someone. “I don’t want to say the wrong thing”. For those who do not know the correct language or terminology, these conversations can seem like a minefield. PC can make important conversations, such as those on race, completely inaccessible to people uneducated on the specific vocabulary.
Where does this leave class discussions?
Class discussions are an incredibly important part of learning and growing, it is a chance to hear the perspectives of your peers and work through hard issues together. So why does the class fall quiet when it’s time to work together? Class discussions are probably the most yielding when different experiences are involved, but they are also the hardest. Having a class with different political, racial, or gender identities can cause a sense of tension. Those in the dominant societal group are often quiet from fear of their ideas being misinterpreted due to using incorrect terminology. Those in the marginalized societal group often remain quiet as well, due to fear of having to carry all the emotional burden throughout the conversation. It is important for a class to find a middle ground within the polarization. Ways to do this are: defining vocabulary that is acceptable, putting respect first and creating trust, emphasizing open-mindedness, and finally amplifying the voices of marginalized groups. Even with all these steps conversations can be hard, and too often hurtful, that does not mean we should shy away from this, instead we should dig deeper, together.