What is Being 'Politically Correct'?

If you’re in college and you’re reading this article, then there’s a 948% chance that you have heard of the term “political correctness”. But, what exactly is being “politically correct”, or “PC”, and what are its implications? For some, this phrase contains negative connotations and is representative of oppressing speech. However, for others, it means creating a safe environment for everyone through the language that you use. But using inclusive language may be more important than you think, and it has a lasting impact on the way that you and others around you think about the world. 

Being active in PC culture, on the surface, is about language. It introduced the idea that the words that you say and the language that you use have more power than you think — they have the ability to either be inclusive and create a safe space for others, or they can inadvertently contribute to discrimination and microaggressions. Think about meeting a new coworker, and asking her if she has a boyfriend. This may seem like a normal question to you, but by asking her about a boyfriend, you are imposing heteronormativity on her and may be even inadvertently forcing her to face the uncomfortable situation of coming out at work, which may be made even more uncomfortable if she thinks that you see her having a boyfriend as normal. 

You may feel uncomfortable trying to “censor” yourself and your thoughts just to accommodate a small group of people that may be offended by your words. We see this in backlash from the “Me Too” movement. Men are taking to social media and telling the public, “I’ll never be safe to be alone with a woman again” and wondering, “Can I even compliment women anymore?,” “Can I ask a woman out or even talk to her without getting in trouble?” The simple answer is this — have respect for women. Think about the compliment you want to give a woman. Why are you saying it? Are you saying it because you see her as an object and you want to have sex with her? Then don’t say it. Are you giving her a compliment on her work presentation because you think she had a well thought out point? Green light. Basically, if your words have good intent, then they will most likely be welcomed by the person you say them to.

Don’t get confused — being politically correct isn’t about holding your tongue or being scrutinized for saying certain things; it’s about having respect for others and using careful consideration in your interactions so that you can avoid harming groups that are systematically disadvantaged. Something to remember is that being politically correct isn’t about a strict set of rules that you follow when you talk to someone new. The only “rule” is to have respect for others and thinking about if whether or not the words you’re using are inclusive or divisive. Of course, it may take some practice, and you may mess up and say something that offends someone. But what if you do mess up, and someone tells you that your words made them uncomfortable? The answer is simple: apologize and learn from your mistakes. We are all growing and learning, and there may be things that you don’t know are offensive or have the potential to harm marginalized groups.

At the end of the day, no one can force you to say things that you don’t want to say, or force you to bite your tongue if you have an offensive thought to share. You can’t be arrested for calling a woman a b***h or for asking your coworker, “Where are you from?” People don’t engage in PC culture because they feel forced to. Most of the time, people engage in PC culture because they want others around them to know that it is important to respect them. If that’s you, then you’re already on a great track to being a part of PC culture.