Friday, May 9, 2014
It's Time to Retire the Phrase "Politically Correct".
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a discussion with someone who insists on their right to use racist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive language. These are the folks who believe that their rights are somehow being infringed upon if you point out to them that what they are saying is rude or offensive. They believe that being told not to be racist, sexist, or homophobic is somehow worse than actually being the subject of racism, sexism, or homophobia.
The problem with this whole line of thinking is the fallacy that free speech is a free card to say whatever you want and not face any consequences. There have been many high profile cases of celebrities losing endorsements or most recently with Donald Sterling, being stripped of his position in the NBA for racist comments. Free speech only protects you from the government telling you what you can and cannot say in public or print. It does not protect you from criticism. It does not protect you from professional consequences. It does not protect you from litigation.
Words have meanings and connotations. Words carry power. You cannot divorce a word from its meaning, and words have consequences. It is not acceptable to say offensive things because "it's a joke". A good joke punches up, not down. And if people are offended by your "joke" it doesn't mean they are too sensitive, it means your joke sucks.
You often hear people (usually white men) rail on about the good old days when they didn't have to worry about offending people. All that political correctness gone mad. I hate the term political correctness. Usually when someone uses that phrase they are about to make a fool of themselves. Instead of this idea of "political correctness" I like to think of it as simply being respectful of others.
Has Joe Redneck really lost anything in his life by having someone tell him not to use offensive words toward minorities or women? Is his right to be offensive really more important than the experiences of those who are subject to racism or sexism or homophobia? Why are his rights more important than theirs?
Words have power. Words can be used to reinforce stereotypes and promote hatred. The words we use create a cultural discourse that has more wide reaching effects than the few moments after they are said. Words are a reflection of our society, and what we deem to be acceptable and not. We need to learn to be critical instead of simply accepting hateful language because it's more convenient or because "I'm not offended". Free speech should not trump common decency.
* twitter: @poliitcal_toast Tumblr: political toaster