Although the extremes of political correctness can sometimes be absurd, America needs this trend to help it fulfill the spirit of the Constitution. Our country was founded on principles of inclusion, which means acting compassionately toward the many different people who make up our nation. Almost every group who immigrated to America was at one time the outsider — mistreated, abused and taunted. Maturity means not having to relive our mistakes of the past, but learning from them and doing better. Our country needs more sensitivity, not less.
The apocalyptic backlash against a benign combination of good old-fashioned manners and simple sensitivity toward others is easy to understand: Many Americans feel growing rage, fear and frustration as the country continues to evolve into something different than what they are used to. Plus, new technology accelerates cultural change, and the erosion of familiar and comforting traditions leaves us uncertain and uncomfortable. Every generation mourns the loss of the good old days, and the perception of change isn’t entirely imagined. For instance, in 1960, 73 percent of children age 18 and under lived in a home with two heterosexual parents in their first marriage. Now only 46 percent do. The country is 62 percent white today; whites will be a minority by 2043.
Every political and social policy or tradition has examples of excess. We don’t define the value of a policy based on its most extreme manifestations. We can point to the absurd behavior of zealots around all of our most cherished values. We poke fun at helicopter parents for being overprotective, but we don’t erase safety laws and regulations that protect children.
A fairer critique would ask whether political correctness had solved the problem it was devised to address: Has it scrubbed away American prejudices? Certainly not yet, and of course it’s impossible to tell whether political correctness is even helping to diminish these, given how many other factors can influence behavior. But the task is worthy and vast: to erase centuries of bias in our country’s collective unconscious — and one way to do that is with language. For the same reason we no longer use terms that came to seem pejorative (Negro, colored, chick, bitch), we should eschew phrases tinged with hate (fag, cripple, retard) from our vocabulary.
Even on a purely anecdotal level, we can look around and see younger generations growing up to be more aware of instances of discrimination based on gender, race, religion, or gender identity and not accepting them. Armed with this awareness, young people are less likely to accept bullying or exploitation simply because it’s endorsed by a social code.
PC’s opponents point to its most extreme examples to argue for doing exactly what we did before political correctness showed us the racism, misogyny and homophobia embedded in our language: Nothing. Deriding political correctness gives people permission not to fix a problem, because the real problem, they tell us, is the cure. This is the logic of vaccination deniers and climate-change skeptics. Or all those hard-core smokers back in the 1960s and ’70s who laughed at the warning labels about the damage cigarette smoking could do. They accused the government of being a scold and boosted cigarette sales by over 7.8 billion in 1966, the year the labels first appeared on cigarette packs. Arrogantly clinging to wrong-headed traditions is not good for the country.
Every time a male coach berates his players by referring to them as “ladies” or tells them to “hike their skirts” while playing, we’re perpetuating an atmosphere in which women are not men’s equals.
Anti-political-correctness rhetoric serves as a clever tool for politicians who wish to distract voters from the real issues (and their lack of solutions) by tapping into their darkest fears about those who are different than themselves. It’s genius — as long as those they’re manipulating are too zombified to think for themselves.
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