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In Defense of Political Correctness

[digg=]I cannot pinpoint the exact year when I started hearing about this thing called Political Correctness. I know I was fairly young (pre-teen, I think) and no one ever gave me a firm definition of what “Politically Correct” meant. I knew it had something to do with language and the names people were supposed to use for each other. Native American instead of “Indian”, Homosexual or Gay instead of “Fag” or “Faggot”, and African American instead of “Colored”, “Negro”, and, to some extent, “Black.” (The last one I do not agree with for myself, obviously. That’s another post.)

I remember that even from the beginnings of Political Correctness, people have made light of it, if not outright joked about it. Some of the ways people were expected to refer to others seemed overwrought – “Differently-abled” instead of handicapped (or cripple), “Vertically Challenged” instead of dwarf or midget or some other (admittedly) offensive way of referring to people born shorter than ‘normal’. However, I’ve always felt that a group, especially a minority group, has the right to guide the language concerning themselves, especially in the public square. What people do in their own homes can’t be dictated (nor should it be). If a group of people wants folks to refer to them as Differently-abled, then folks should. Even if folks on the outside don’t like having to do so.

Still, this particular language came under fire early on in Political Correctness. And, as time went on, Political Correctness and accusations of it became somewhat of a pejorative. (PC police, anyone?) Now newsbeings like Lou Dobbs can say on national television that Politically Correct speech is nothing more than a way for ‘people’ to control the speech of others and no one corrects him. There’s not even outrage. He set PC against the First Amendment, demonized it, and squished it under his huge ass.

For many years I allowed the belittling of Political Correctness to sort of roll off my back. It used to be that I would have an immediate negative reaction to people using PC like a curse word. Lately I was surprised to find myself sort of unconsciously agreeing with the “PC is bad!” sentiments I heard. Once I recognized that I yanked hard on the reins – whoa Nelly! Where did this attitude come from?

My guess is that, since I have never been clear on what exactly “Politically Correct” is and have never fought for my particular PC label, I have not properly cemented the concept in my mind. Therefore, my opinion of it is easily, if not sneakily, swayed. I wasn’t paying enough attention. When I sat down and thought about how I really felt about Political Correctness, I decided that it really is a good thing. A thing worth fighting for. It’s not negative, it’s not a curse word, and it’s not about suppressing free speech or policing anyone’s thoughts.

I think it’s time that people started defending Political Correctness. Articulating what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s still important. Political Correctness is about language and the power language has. I’m a writer. I believe — no, I know — that language is a powerful weapon. Changing language is one of the key ways to change society for the better. Language is one of the key ways in which people in power maintain the status quo. Changing language, by itself, won’t solve the world’s problems. No one thing will. But there are always key factors. Language is one.

To start, let’s explore what Politically Correct is supposed to mean.

Not surprisingly, the article on Political Correctness at Wikipedia is a battleground. (If you’ve never clicked the ‘Discussion’ tab on WP entries, especially ones that have boxes at the top stating that the article may be flawed in some way, you’re missing out on some very interesting – and funny – drama.) Right now, the opening paragraphs of the entry state:

Political correctness (often abbreviated to PC) is a term used to describe language or behavior which is intended, or said to be intended, to provide a minimum of offense, particularly to racial, cultural, or other identity groups. A text that conforms to the alleged ideals of political correctness is said to be politically correct.

The term “political correctness” is used almost exclusively in a pejorative sense. However, terms such as inclusive language and civility are often used to praise language that is seen by critics as “politically correct”. Those who use the term in a critical fashion often express a concern about the dilution of freedom of speech, intolerance of language, and the avoidance of a discussion of social problems. gives us a few more views:

politically correct – marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving esp. race, gender, sexual affinity, or ecology.
( Unabridged)

politically correct –
1. Of, relating to, or supporting broad social, political, and educational change, especially to redress historical injustices in matters such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.
2. Being or perceived as being overconcerned with such change, often to the exclusion of other matters.
(The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

political correctness – avoidance of expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalize or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

I particularly like the definition by WordNet. It parallels the bit about “Civility” mentioned in the Wikipedia entry. For me, Political Correctness boils down to just that: being civil, being polite. I feel that Political Correctness promotes tolerance because it forces people to think about what they say and who they are saying it to.

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that people who rail against Politically Correct speech are those who do not want to have to be polite or civil to folks different from them. They see nothing wrong with using the language they grew up with or that they’ve come to use. They do not care if the language they use is hurtful to others because, after all, the most important thing is that they get to do what they want when they want. This is the prevailing attitude of people with privilege.

I’m not just talking about White Privilege, either. Any kind of privilege can result in this attitude. Because it’s usually the underprivileged who are asking for new labels and new language. It is one of the great markers of privilege that those who have it can ignore the voices of those who don’t. They can disparage and actively suppress efforts to level the playing field. They can spit PC at anyone who asks for a little civility.

Common decency. How often do we hear people asking where it went?

Politically Correct language is important. Whether we keep calling it PC or we start calling it Civil Speech or Inclusive Talk, we need to fight for it. Changing language, changing society, building a better future, that’s hard work. But here we have an excellent tool for doing so that doesn’t require marching, letter-writing, or even picking up a newspaper. Let’s make sure people use it.

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68 thoughts on “In Defense of Political Correctness”

  1. Revena says:

    Well said.

  2. nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez says:

    Kai has a great post on PC. I’m not sure it goes the same direction yours does, but it really struck me.

    I do think it is important to examine our speech and listen to others who feel our language hurts them. I know anyone is capable of using language that hurts others and not wanting to give it up. I think all it takes is to have someone suddenly appear in objection to words you are very used to using. There’s a bit of resistance. I can be terribly thick myself. I actually had to reason out the other day why “Retard” wasn’t an acceptable insult/joke. Once I thought it out, I realized how it is no different than words I would be very against, but initially I read right over it without stopping, and laughed. It took a reader to object to it to get me to think about it. I know, now that sounds ridiculous. But…there you go. It’s why I make an effort to come back after any reaction I have. I”ve learned that they hide things from me.

    I do’nt think i’m high and mighty over others who resist giving up language that others find hurtful. It takes effort and energy. I guess I get mad when I see that people don’t want to expend that energy and effort, like you say…and keep using words anyway, no matter who hurts. That is where the rubber meets the road. Anyone can discover they are still using words that have been left behind by the times, or even that they have harmful thought patterns or speech patterns in use. It’s all about what you do once you realize that, I guess.

    Change is hard…change will always have resistance built in. Even when we want it.

  3. nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez says:

    but i detest the idea of “polite.” i just don’t know what that means. i prefer “kind.” “thoughtful.” “polite” feels so…powdery to me.

  4. nunya says:

    The only way in which I am privileged, as a queer black female, is probably class privilege. And, yet, I do tend to talk about political correctness in a negative sense, mostly because I agree with the part of one your given definitions that it tends to cause an avoidance of discussion about social problems. In general, when people say offensive things, it’s not in the course of discussion. However, a few weeks ago I had to lead a discussion in a class that is about race, and I found myself frustrated because I was asking questions that I wanted to hear real answers to that my classmates were essentially refusing to answer. They were really easy questions to answer, too, with answers that, at least, us as black people have definitely thought about and have answers for them. But they were questions that, perhaps, the non-black students felt that by giving similar answers they might come off as offensive. So they just wouldn’t answer the question; they would answer around the question.

    Reading your response, I have concluded that the problem is not political correctness per se. It’s probably the same issue you had before, i.e. not really knowing what it means or exactly what the consequences of enforcing it are or should be. I think the *concept* of political correctness, as people understand it, makes people silent, then, in ways that aren’t and should not be necessary because of uncertainty about what is offensive. There are people who will overreact to comments, and there are people like me who barely react even when something is offensive. Because I don’t react negatively, I don’t have a problem with people being able to say most, if not all, things.

    But, to give examples, you write things on your blog that piss white people off. They would probably love to say that you shouldn’t be able to say some of these things, would accuse you of not being polite or considering other people’s feelings, etc, when, to you, you’re just discussing a charged issue in a rather straightforward, candid fashion. With me, my intention is usually not to hurt anyone’s feelings (frankly, there are some people whose feelings I don’t care about) but to get out in the open that, yes, I have some prejudices because I think that’s helpful to *discuss* those things rather than ignore them (it’s not so much helpful to make derogatory comments during a basketball game, other than knowing that there are people out there who still think a certain way). And I don’t think you would say that we shouldn’t be able to do that, but that’s how a lot of people interpret political correctness just because we know that oftentimes when you’re speaking freely about a difficult issue, no matter what your intention or how you say it, some people will get offended.

    That causes people to shut down open discussion altogether, and I feel that keeps various -isms in existence. My biggest problem with the *interpretation* of political correctness is that, by people feeling the need to shut down racial discussions, people now act as if racism doesn’t exist…because people don’t talk about it anymore or keep their prejudices hidden. Not giving voice to something doesn’t make it go away, and it might be one of the reasons for all this open racial hostility over the past year starting with Richards and the last incident with Imus. A backlash is beginning. So we need to sort through the confusion over what political correctness means and how to speak. But because of the fact that people always get offended, there’s a lot of difficulty in figuring out how to navigate speech and ideas without shutting down some important discussions altogether.

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  7. transgressingengineer says:

    Nice post, ABW. I would add the huge political ties that the anti-PC movement has. I am sick to death of (mostly) conservatives bashing political correctness as an evil thing created to limit their speech. To me, like what you said in your post, political correctness (or however you want to describe it) allows people to control how parts of their identity are perceived. Being able to control this part of one’s self if so important to feelings of self-worth.

    The one (oh-so-minor) point I would differ with you on is where you said that PC promotes tolerance. I would just like to say that I simply hate that word: tolerance. To me, it implicitly renders the white, male, straight, able-bodied, etc as normal and all other permetations as “deviant,” which the “normal” group must put up with. Thus, the inclusion of diversity becomes a add-on that stands outside of whatever culture you are talking about instead of folks realizing the benefits for *all* to be inclusive of *all*. It’s a small thing to pick on for such a good post, but since you are talking about the use of words, I thought I would chirp in with that.

  8. ephelba says:

    When someone says to me that I’m just being politically correct, I feel insulted because the implication I hear is that my comment has been carefully worded so that I look good. The insult is that I haven’t put the thought into my speech because it’s the right thing to do, or because people should be able to listen to me without being offended, or because what I’m saying is true- no, I’m just out to be high-and-mighty (or hip-and-liberal, whatever). It’s the idea of insincerity that has polluted “politically correct” for me.

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  13. Ragnell says:

    Whenever I see the anti-PC comments, I think about the “War on Christmas.” Particularly the “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” argument.

    If political correctness is bad because it makes people change their language to avoid bothering people, then isn’t changing your greeting or your office party terminology from “Holiday” to “Christmas” just more political correctness?

    I concluded that anti-PC people simple don’t understand the concept anyway, and abandoned the term in favor of “good manners.”

  14. somewhereupnorth says:

    You sum up everything I also think, and I would also say, if I could articulate it so well :(

    Great post.

  15. Rabboleth says:

    Excellent article. Wish I’d seen more of this in earlier years, because when I think of Political Correctness, the first thing that comes to mind is George Orwell’s 1984. Control of language grants control of thought, because we think in words.
    Not that this isn’t what’s being done already, in ways both subtle and blatant, to preserve the white-male-centered status quo. It’s sad, really, that any attempt to reform the language is seen as more of the same, just by a different group.
    To this day, that’s still part of my concept of Political Correctness, even if it’s only there to keep the casualties of ‘free speech’ to a minimum.

  16. Liberty says:

    I think that the general idea of PC is a good one. It helps people realise that what they say can hurt others and create a hostile environment. In making people reflect on their words, PC is a great idea.

    However, when PC is used as a weapon to attack someone this is horrible and unjust. While a person’s words can be inconsiderate or hurtful, this does not mean that a person always intended to be hurtful. It is more important what the person intends by the word. If someone calls something retarded to state that it develops slowly (e.g., retarded paints, retarded photos) they mean no harm, but people could take offence and in return harm the offender.

    When PC is used as a weapon, there are two fundamental assumptions that are being used:
    -The perciever is more important then the subject.
    -People universally understand each other.
    This means that to condem someone for being non-PC one has to assume that they understand how they feel inside, and that the offence is greater than any other possible outcome, good or bad. As the first assumption is very unjust and the second is just silly, it seems safe to reject them. However, as a society these rejections have yet to be made.

    Further harming any good PC can bring about is fear. Many people fear what will happen should they say something non-PC. I believe that this is why many white people, especially those not in power, ignore the race issue. By bringing up tough questions about equality (Why can only black people say “nigger”?) or injustices (Why are all Catholic priests ostracised?), people can be said to be “attacking” regardless of intent. These types of questions when critically assessed can lead to a societal good, yet people fear the stigma of being non-PC

  17. Chris says:

    The thing that white folks walk away with it is that “Politically Correct” is strange, whereas the unstated flip side to that is racist, sexist, etc. behavior is normal.

    I like to flip that around. I call that bullshit “Oppressively Correct”, since that seems to receive far more enforcement in society than any “PC” panic.

  18. Beena says:

    I just wrote a nine page contemporary activism paper on this post for a WGST 300/COMM 380 class called Black Women: Power, Politic and Rhetoric. Take from that what you will.

  19. Melanie says:

    I don’t think a lot of people understand that political correctness is heading in the exact opposite direction in which you think it is heading.

    When it comes to political correctness, there is no hope. It will remain as it always has in the past. It is a Sophisticated dangerous form of censorship, with it’s major goal of manipulation, brainwashing, and destroying societies around the world. When students
    attend university they find it very hard to express their point of views, because of the
    strict rules of political correctness, could it be that this is a candy covered way of telling people telling people that their personal point of views, and opinions are not right? what ever happened to freedom of speech? It is only the nature of most westernized
    people to be civilized and respectful, they do not NEED political correctness to limit
    their freedom of speech, and thoughts. Human beings are very intelligent people, and they
    know how to manipulate people of the world, so that the government can secretly implement fear into them, in order to have complete control, and steer society in the direction that they want. Unfortunately humans can also be mislead very easily, and can except and follow the governments manipulation, just the way dodo birds follow each other off of a cliff towards their death.

    This is just part of a 1o page essay i am writng AGAINST political correctness… i strongley disagree with it, and believe it has gone WAAAy to far!

  20. Tom says:


    I agree that there is an agenda of thoughts that the Government wants us to think.

    But I find it hard to believe, based on what I read in the newspapers, that being kind to people different from us is part of the Government’s agenda. Would you please think it over?

  21. Angel H. says:

    When students
    attend university they find it very hard to express their point of views…

    You mean like this…?

    And this…?

    And this…?

    and let’s not forget this, this, this, and, of course, this.

    It is only the nature of most westernized
    people to be civilized and respectful, they do not NEED political correctness to limit
    their freedom of speech, and thoughts.

    Are these the same civilized and respectful people that caused the moderators on the CBS News website to shut down the boards because of all of the racist comments aimed at Sen. Obama?

    Human beings are very intelligent people, and they
    know how to manipulate people of the world, so that the government can secretly implement fear into them, in order to have complete control, and steer society in the direction that they want. Unfortunately humans can also be mislead very easily, and can except and follow the governments manipulation, just the way dodo birds follow each other off of a cliff towards their death.

    WTF are you on?

  22. Melanie says:

    I understand your point of view,I am not saying political correctness should stop completely,… in the beginning it had very good intentions, it stopped a lot of racism around the world,I am only saying it has gone to far! For instance…. “Merry christmas” must be “happy holidays”?
    the word flipchart isn’t politically correct because it is offensive to Filipino’s
    what about colours?
    Staff at a coffee shop in Glasgow refused to serve a man who ordered a “black coffee” because they described it as being racist…. they would not serve him until he asked for a “coffee without cream”…. this has clearly gone to far!

  23. the angry black woman says:


    Hon, you’re building strawmen so fast I’m surprised you don’t have hay fever.

    People taking political correctness too far are people who didn’t understand it well to begin with. Thus, the solution is not “Get rid of PC” but instead “Educate people”. The second two examples you list I’m dubious as to whether they are real. Is that just something you heard somewhere or do you have a link to some sources to back you up.

    the whole Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays thing isn’t so much Political Correctness as it is a response tot he fact that not everyone fucking celebrates Christmas. How rude and ignorant is it to wish a Jewish person Merry Christmas? Not to mention the dozens of other religions.

    It’s bullshit reasoning like this that tells me we DEFINITELY need political correctness, if only to beat back the stunning ignorance Melanie has displayed here.

    You may feel that I’m being mean by calling you names and such. However, your response inspired nothing but disdain. And since you’re obviously operating at a lower level than most of the rest of us, I feel no need to engage you in a meaningful way. Perhaps if you stopped throwing strawmen at us, I would reconsider.

  24. Tom says:


    From the point of view of someone who doesn’t feel her heart beat like a gong by certain words, I can see how political correctness might appear to have gone too far.

    I tried to be sensitive to you in my post. There were a few opportunities to make your heart rate go up based on class factors, and I tried to avoid doing so out of concern for a fellow human being. What would it say about me if, knowing that, I had plunged ahead and done it?

    Won’t you consider that your fellow people may experience very real pain on hearing certain words? And that that doesn’t mean the speaker is evil. The speaker may be a very kind person. The pain may be 100% accidental. But very real.

  25. Tom says:


    That’s all I have of the sensitive stuff. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have made friends here by ignoring Angel’s post.

  26. Melanie says:

    hh, ww nvr thght wld ll tk thngs s srsly, nd wsn’t gnrng ngls pst, m jst nvr n ths st, bcs dnt rlly cr! ll gt vr yrslvs! hh

  27. Tom says:

    Melanie, ouch. Read that before you were devowelled and went right out for some exercise. I’m still wiping a little dribble of blood off my mouth. You got in a good one.

    But now I know which side you’re on.

  28. Melanie says:

    yh thnks fr dng tht, nvr thght bnch f dlts cld b ths mmtr!! hh

  29. Angel H. says:

    Never thought one person could be so damn ignorant…

    Anyone else smell a “rabid dog”? ;p

  30. Tom says:

    So it’s not just me?

  31. Melanie says:

    wll ts bn fn , hp fnd smn ls t nslt

  32. the angry black woman says:

    It may be the same person, but she’s not posting from the same IP. That one is so totally blocked. At any rate, I let her first comment stand because, even though it wasn’t all roses and unicorns, she looked like she was willing to engage in discussion. But the follow up posts betrayed an attitude dangerously close to one who is 12 and perhaps a little high on whippits.

  33. Lisa says:

    To Angry Black Woman,
    Y nd lttl “Pltcl Crrct Mthwsh”, lts fc t, yr dmn pssssd!!

  34. Lisa says:

    Jst t b clr , m ddrssng th “ngr Blck Wmn”. t sms t m, “Mln” hs sd th nl snsbl thng v rd n ths ntr wbst shwng tht pnt cn b md WTHT fwl lngg nd th mtrt dsplyd nl b th mntll chllngd!!!!!!!

  35. the angry black woman says:

    Oh look, everyone! Lisa shares the same IP as Melanie. I wonder if maybe she’s a sockpuppet.

    Even if she isn’t, she probably knows dear Melanie and has been brought here to defend her against us mean, foul-mouthed racists. According to the Rules of Engagement, anytime a person posts here and doesn’t provide a real email address, that’s grounds for devoweling without warning and instant banning.

    Melanie, Lisa, welcome to the club. And goodbye.

  36. mollykake says:

    it’s a shame this whole thing has deteriorated. but it’s encouraging that people feel so strongly. shows it’s time for discussions. ABW, thanks for opening it. as you know, it’s something i’m rather interested in. language in general.
    true, people seem to be upset about their language rights being ‘limited.’ and the worst part about PC is that is does create a forum for lots and LOTS of misunderstanding, but the great thing that is also creates is a forum for DISCUSSION. pandora, anyone?
    i think, and i’ve said this before, the most PC thing anyone can do is admit that there are just some experiences that they will never understand, and go from there. a good friend of mine once said that the thing people will defend the most is their own perspective. well, newsflash, there are about 6 billion perspectives in the world, and therefor about 6 billion different truths. which is right? ALL OF THEM.
    not to be all ‘rainbows and unicorns,’ but call it whatever you want, PC, tolerance (sorry transgressingengineer, i understand you dislike that word, and why) if it’s going to allow people to realize that their’s isn’ the only perspective, then i’m all for it.
    hard and fast rules about language does seem rather elitist (in linguistics we call it standard language philosphy). but i think PC has picked up where legislation has left off. you can’t legislate lanauge (which is good, anything that limits dialogue is not helpful to anyone). but other than that, how are we going to combat this more subtle form of racism that goes on if not with social pressure to be more aware of how we are affecting the world around us?
    riddle me this?

  37. Blair. says:

    Ww, blck wmn, y hv sm srs slf cnfdnc prblms

  38. Blair. says:

    Ww, hppn t stmbl crss ths wb sght, nd hppn t s th mtrt lvl f ths ngr blck wmn, ts vr ntllgnt hw th vwls hppn t g mssng frm yng wmns ptn, nd hw pst, nd th wrds tht cm frm ths “pltcll crrct” wmn. s fr s cn s y r pltcl crrct, y r jst s crrpt nd blvs s th rst f th pltcns tht rn ths cntr, twstng ntllgnt wrds nt wht y wld lk t hr, nd wht wll bnft y n th ftr. blv vr hlf brnd nd slf mtvtd prsn knws xctl wht m tlkng bt, nd t b hnst, blv y d t, bt, lk ll thr pltcns, y r lwys rght. Grt jb n prvng t.

  39. Tom says:

    I just happened to stumble across this website too! I like what Tom has been saying. He sounds very sensible.

  40. the angry black woman says:

    God ANOTHER sockpuppet? You’re really lucky that I don’t have the time to devowel you, too. but it’s coming. in the meantime, don’t feed the troll.

  41. Tom says:

    :( sorry ABW.

  42. mollykake says:

    can you please elaborate on why ABW and the rest of the politicians who run this country are oblivious? what are they oblivious to? and what are the words that are being twisted into something that will be beneficial in the future?

  43. mollykake says:

    and which politicians? there are many. (some perhaps less credible than others)

  44. Angel H. says:

    in the meantime, don’t feed the troll.

    What about virtual ass-kickings?

  45. the angry black woman says:

    no worries Tom, I didn’t mean you. I meant after my comment people shouldn’t feed the troll. I suspect since he/she has not come back by now, they probably never will.

  46. the angry black woman says:

    To Blair, Lisa, and Melanie,

    I invite you to go to the top of this page and click on the link to the Rules of Engagement. There I clearly spell out my commenting policy. If you cannot handle that, then go somewhere else. Simple.


    It’s interesting that this thread didn’t really deteriorate until Melanie showed up. And she showed up about 3 weeks after the comment before her. This sometimes occurs with older posts. Someone finds it, gets angry, sees that the discussion is over, and tries to stir up shit for attention. Luckily, I have ways of handling such people.

    But you see the danger of *not* moderating at all.

  47. the angry black woman says:

    Dear Angry Black Readers,
    Melanie thinks I’ve been unfair to her, taking her vowels and banning and such. She wants to continue the conversation but feels she’s done nothing wrong. I’ve been corresponding with her parents (Rick and Lisa, whom you’ve already met, who are also parents to Blair) and they seem, for lack of a really rude word, horrendously clueless. I fear that Melanie may be the same. Still, if the folks who comment here regularly want to continue discussing with Melanie — who’ll be heavily moderated, of course — let me know and I’ll let her back in. Yes, it’s my blog, but input from my community is important!
    Nevermind. Melanie’s mom’s actions just made me think better of allowing this. Until this young lady stops letting her parents do battle for her, we’ll have to leave off her education.

  48. Ruby says:

    Im doing a research project of Political correctness at school, and would like to say how extremely helpful this topic has been. The internet is full of people raving about how horrible political correctness is…

    Anyway, my point of view, is Political Correctness is good when it is NOT used as a weapon. Did you hear about the murderer who got paid ten thousand dollars because the newspaper called him a rapist? Thats just annoying, the murderer is using political correctness as a weapon.

    However, Im finding that PC is a good thing, as without it, women would still have no rights, black people would still be slaves, and we would probably have no justise system to speak of.

  49. Angel H. says:

    OMG! Melanie actually went to her parents about this?!

    “Mommie!! Some Black lady on the internet is being mean to me!”

  50. Tom says:

    Angel I’m sorry I wasn’t more firm with her from the first. I’m learning.

  51. Angel H. says:

    Tom, don’t blame yourself. I don’t think she would’ve listen no matter how gently or how firmly any of us handled her.

  52. Helen says:

    When people accuse me of being “PC”, I typically give one of two responses. The quick one is:
    “PC? Oh yes, I am always trying to become MORE Polite and Courteous!”

    The slightly longer one is this:
    “PC? Oh yes I am! I think everyone should decide what they wish to be called, and everyone should respect that. I mean, if you introduce yerself to me as ‘Michael’, I’m not gonna call you ‘Frank’ because it’s just too much trouble for me to pay attention to your name.”

  53. StacyM says:

    Late to the topic but I’m glad I found this post ( nice blog btw). I think the problem with equating PC with civility is that the concept of force is missing. PC in government and academic settings is a set of speech codes backed up by policy (disciplinary force). Unlike polite conversation where the rules governing speech are regulated by individual choice, violating institutionalized speech codes can have great detriments to the people who violate them. It is forced civility, which is why so many people oppose it. I normally regulate my speech so as to not be offensive to others, generally because I like being sociable with people and do not want to offend. If I where a student at a school that used speech codes and I choose to be offensive or to use words in an academic setting that would normally be considered offense in everyday speech, I could suffer severe consequences. And to that end, speech codes are not only immoral, they are the worst form of immorality in that they restrict freedom. Civility should not be enforced by strong armed tactics of governing bodies, which is why there is such an uproar over institutionalized political correctness. Civility is the product of individuals within society making conscious choices, not a product of coercion via force. I reject the notion that these codes get people to think about being civil. Thats like saying drug laws get people to stop doing drugs. It is fallacous thinking and causes even more problems that it solves.

  54. Ico says:

    Stacy, I’m not sure what you mean by “speech codes,” you’ll have to be more specific and give some examples, but I do work in academia and there certainly is a lot of a political correctness in my department. You could say that we are drilled on this sort of stuff when we enter the teaching program. There are certain expectations about what we can and cannot say as instructors within the institutions of higher education.

    These regulations are very important. They are important for the faculty because we represent authority; it’s not just people out on the street using free speech. We have real power over our students. Not only do we set an example, but we establish the social rules and norms of the institution with our behavior. For that reason our behavior must not reinforce sexist, racist, or homophobic attitudes.

    As far as students go — yes, there are strict standards. White, heterosexual students are in the majority here. If we permit them to intimidate those in the minority or create an unpleasant atmosphere through negative language, that inhibits learning. The school needs to be an environment in which *all* people can learn equally and freely.

    For example. I hear a great deal from friends about the silence imposed on them in work environments that do not foster a civil (i.e. politically correct) atmosphere. When the majority of people are white, male, heterosexual, and racial/sexist/homophobic jokes abound… sure it’s free speech, but it definitely oppresses people. It’s oppressive even when the people making the jokes don’t see it as offensive (as is often the case). If we were to allow that to go on in a school, many of the students would be uncomfortable. They would not feel willing or able to speak up and they would not get a good education. I don’t care how much freedom they technically would have; such an environment is oppressive.

    Now work environments are up to the company, but in a school, we will not have that. We want to foster open and free discussion, and that can’t happen when people are bullied into silence. Homosexual or black students in my class can talk about homophobia or race because they know if anyone uses offensive language, *I* will slam them for it. That means the students who would potentially be targets of said language can be free to be themselves.

    In short: I don’t know the specifics of the speech codes you mentioned, and I might disagree with some of them if I did, but I do feel that we need to hold our students to certain standards of civility and respect. Off campus they can be as vile as they want, but on campus we are fostering an environment of learning for *everyone,* and we need to protect that environment so we provide fair opportunity to all. It’s a balancing act.

  55. nojojojo says:

    What Ico said, plus this — the reason speech codes are enforced in places like university campuses is because that is not the public. Students invest a mortgage’s worth of money in higher education, and with that investment they should have the right to get that education without being made to feel as if they don’t belong because they’re not [pick a dominant status]. They do belong; they’re paying through the nose to belong. The same applies to any workplace where the company’s bottom line is at stake and suffers damage if they can’t keep their workforce reasonably productive; PC language helps that goal. Ditto government, which is supposed to represent all people. Hard for people to feel represented if their public servants make jokes about gays, fat people, whatever. Easy for those people to feel excluded and/or unwelcome as citizens (or as human beings).

    If people want to go out on public or their own private land to spew out political incorrectness, I’ve got no problem with it. They can go with my blessing. What I object to is people who want to do this in a place where I’ve put in a share of time and money, and where I’ve got a stake in the outcome. Then their jokes, insults, and carelessly offensive language begins restricting my freedom, in a way that has a real and serious impact on my life. They’re interfering with my ability to make a living, or get an education. Then they need to go.

  56. Alex says:

    As a straight white Protestant male from Mississippi…

    I COMPLETELY and WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with the original post. 90% of the time someone says they’re being “politically incorrect”, what they really mean is “I’m a bigot and proud!” And I’m sick of it and have been for years. Thank you for writing this.

  57. Chris says:

    the reason that political correctness will never work is because it contradicts the very idea that it stands for.

    PC is the tolerance of others beliefs, culture as to not discriminate agiainst anyone. Yet being politally correct labels speach as being correct based on what is morally right to say. Who is to say what i believe is more wrong than what you have to say. Who is to say my morals are better than yours. How can you not discriminate against but tolerate somehting like islam that does not treat women fairly when we also believe that it is politally corrrect to treat women equally. PC is a code of what is the rhgt thing to say going agianst our constitutional freedom of speach.

    We should not offend people when at all posible but this cannot hold us back from speaking our mind or nothing will be discussed.

    PC is a great idea, but through the years it has been morphed into somehting it was never to be. Treat others like you would like to be treated.

  58. Some guy says:

    Just stopped by as I was having a browse over PC topics and came by this site. Some good points, however it seems very evident that the community is not very open minded.. your way or the high way? As for Angry Black woman…. yes you are very angry, maybe you could also see the bigger picture before you flame someone just because their views differ from yours.

  59. Angel H. says:

    maybe you could also see the bigger picture before you flame someone just because their views differ from yours.

    Or maybe you could try to see *why* she’s angry, instead of claiming that she flames people just because her views are different than yours.

    Oh and BTW, she can choose who, when, and why to flame because IT’S HER DAMN BLOG!

    What the hell is it with people who come up and try to tell you how to run your own damn blog?! Sheesh!!

  60. clay harris says:

    the problem i have with political correctness is that

    1) its censorship , fundamentally. that means it is
    fundamentaly undemocratic. For Black people in
    this country, when the tide has historically shifted
    toward undemocracy, that is usually, ultimately
    bad for us.

    2) political correctness is very relative to the politics
    of the day. which means that there is often no real
    morality behind it. it is used as a cover for latent
    racists to hide behind while they actively , silently
    engage in racism ….
    there is too many chances for token representation
    of “minorities” rather than the fundamental shift
    towards true equality.

    3) Here’s an example:
    The term “Black” is now disputed by the proponents
    of correctness, as a perjorative of persons
    descended from or from Africa
    The word “Africa” itself like the words “Ethiopia”
    and “Sudan”, originated as colonial names by
    foriegn explorers and invaders. These words ,
    roughly translated into modern English, all mean
    “land of the dark-skinned people” or “land of the
    blacks” .
    So when someone says “I’m not African, I’m
    Black” or “I’m not Black , I’m African” , it’s an
    argument based on ignorance.

    While well-intentioned, I have found that Political Correctness, as most have come to understand, fundamentally breeds division, not unity.

  61. the angry black woman says:

    1) its censorship
    Actually, it’s not.

    2) political correctness is very relative to the politics of the day. which means that there is often no real morality behind it.

    Wrong again. It’s never been particularly good form to refer to someone as a cripple, or a nigger, or a chink, or a retard. It’s just that now we have a system i place that explains why these words aren’t desirable.

    So when someone says “I’m not African, I’m Black” or “I’m not Black , I’m African” , it’s an argument based on ignorance.

    and wrong a third time. The discussion surrounding Black vs. African-American or even just African is so much more nuanced than that.

    While well-intentioned, I have found that Political Correctness, as most have come to understand, fundamentally breeds division, not unity.

    Only amongst the ignorant.

  62. Veronica says:

    I have found that Political Correctness, as most have come to understand, fundamentally breeds division, not unity.

    Whereas racism, sexism, and homophobia bring us all together. If by “us,” you mean straight white men, of course.

  63. clay harris says:

    “and wrong a third time. The discussion surrounding Black vs. African-American or even just African is so much more nuanced than that. ”

    i enjoy a good debate. especially when the uninformed assume that there are informed…
    whatever nuances “Africans” and “African-americans” see as vast differences come from different interpretrations of the same problem : colonialism.

    much of the nations in Africa today were literally carved up by the European powers of the 19th century. and those artifical divisions still breed friction today. there are more black people in Brazil than in the u.s., but there still is a perceived distinction between “those” black people and the black people of the u.s… in th brazilian state of bahia, blacks fought for and maintained a esentially seccesionist and autonomous state within brazil for nearly 100 years until slavery was finally overthrown in that country. Slavery ended in Brazil on May 13, 1888. That’s nearly 33 years longer than it took slavery to officialy end in the U.S.

    but we both know, as fellow “African-Americans” ,that if you were teleport Afro-Brazilians into Harlem instananeously, there is a likely chance that they would NOT be regarded as fellow Black people by many Black residents in Harlem , just because of the language difference. In terms of their actual historical experience, the African culture in Brazil is very more intact than any group of Blacks in the U.S.

    I am very aware of the degrees of racism, and the degrees of the debate about racism between Africans living in the Americas. But I am struck by the commonality that Africans all over the world share by their divisiveness toward each other. I would posit that this divisiveness allowed the slave trade to blossom in Africa to begin with….

    Bluntly put, African dscendents living in Brazil are probably more African in culture than African descendents in America.

    That is because slavery in the States was so much more complete in its execution upon its slave population. Language and cultural ties to Africa were successfully wiped out for many Blacks , with the notable exceptions of Gullah, Creole, Garifuna, and Seminole communities in South Carolina,Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida,respectively.

    In Africa, Belgium and France , among other European conquerors, carved up the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Nigeria according to the their needs as colonizers , very much irrespectively of the tribal boundaries that divide and connect those countries throughout the history of the continent. Even some of the tribal identities like ” Yoruba” was constructed by Westernized exiles living in Sierra Leone. Then this “identity” was introduced retroactively to nearby communities in Lagos,Nigeria.

    The “jeje” identity was similarly constructed in Brazil , and then applied to the African identity of Black people already living in Brazil.

    Also,there are historical evidences that the term “Gullah” may have derived from the term Gola, which is the name of a people in Sierra Leone, as well as the origin of the national term for Angola.

    Africans and Black Americans both have had to construct their cultural identities, in large part from their respective post-colonial realities.

    (My source of information is the article , AfroAtlantic Culture: On the Live Dialogue Between Africa and the Americas, by J. Lorand Matory in the historical volume, Africana, compiled by Henry Louis Gates & Kwame Anthony Appiah in 1999.)

    That being said, these nuanced differencesbetween Africans and African-Americans are real. They do matter when Black people are dealing with each other. But they are united in their post-colonial reasoning, and frankly, that can be overcome with humility and some research.

    But political correctness has an inherent danger in what I would call “over-hyphenating” identities. As Black people living in this country, I believe we simply cannot afford afford even the divisiveness of our language. If we, as Black people, accentuate , rather than simply acknowledge and overcome, the differences between “us” and other Africans, then we only hurt ourselves. Over-hyphenating our identity will result in over-hyphenating our thinking, dividing us from Africans living in Africa, or Africans living in Latin America, or Europe, or Asia, ultimately dividing us from our political , cultural brothers and sisters.

    Yes, I think Don Imus should have been fired from his radio show, just as I think he had the right of free speech to say “nappyheaded ho’s”, hatefully racist as the words, and his intentions are.Just as Al Sharpton, and the National Action Network had the right to protest for his dismissal. The Constitution is clear on both sides of the Debate. Nas AND Ice Cube have the right to use the word “nigger” on their albums, and upscale Blacks (and Whites) have the right to protest it.

    ( I often fantasize about Ice Cube and heavy metal gun activist Ted Nugent both at the same table on Bill Maher’s Real Time. Let the sparks fly.)

    The fact are that when people say hateful words or language, in this country, The United States Constitution protects their right to free speech . Period.
    That doesn’t mean people have to sit silently and take it. The Constitution also protects our rights to protest.

    I have to go to work now, so I can’t keep writing much longer. I am a schoolteacher and a cartoonist. check out my site, This debate will most likely continue, much to my joy, because i believe firmly that this is kind of dialogue on race that we ALL need.

  64. nojojojo says:

    Well, it’s great that you’ve done your homework on recent Africans-in-the-Americas history. Thanks for showing us your report. Next time, try summarizing more than one article on several thousand years of multiple cultures’ histories before you start assembling your next history lesson, OK? You could even try, I don’t know, talking to people who are from those cultures, rather than just showing off your book-knowledge of them. Might help you grasp that whole “nuance” thing.

    That said, you might as well just stop here. It really doesn’t matter how many articles you read and regurgitate, because your credibility is shot the instant you start equating political correctness with racism. Not only is this cliched neocon rhetoric that we’ve heard a billion times before, it shows such a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire concept that you might as well be arguing that up is down. And while that works on, say, the audience of Fox News, it generally doesn’t fly far here.

  65. clay harris says:

    where is “here” that you’re talking about? im not seeing or hearing from from you any more depth than i would from Mr. O’Reilly and company ( who , by the way, hangs out with Al Sharpton for reasons I can’t fathom) name-calling don’t work on me, which ultimately is THE problem with political correctness. show up with facts, not mere attitude , or post-doc sarcasm.

  66. clay harris says:

    1 more salvo for ya. Political Correctness goes as about as far as this blog. This doesn’t change much in race-relations on the ground level. You are not out in the streets taking hits like Benazir Bhutto for the Cause, you are sitting at your laptop emailing me back and forth. That is what Political Correctness does. It distracts you from the real Struggle. Like I said, I enjoy the debate.

    Calling me a neo-con or a Fox News wannabe doesn’t change the debate. I am saying to you that when Political Correctness draws semantic boundaries between marginalized African peoples around the world , ( and really just people around the world ) when we should be tactically drawing alliances , then that “Correctness” is neither political not correct, just impotent blathering.

    PC doesn’t go far enough is my view. This dialectic spending time redefining terms of race, instead assaulting and shattering the genetically invalid concept of race finally for the sake of equality and freedom.

    On the African vs. Black issue, African people around the world are still one people because we have been , and are oppressed like we ARE one people. That may never be “Black enough” for you, but I am starting to doubt your idea of “Blackness” anyway.

  67. the angry black woman says:

    where is “here” that you’re talking about? im not seeing or hearing from from you any more depth than i would from Mr. O’Reilly and company

    Here is the Angry Black Woman blog. You seem to have trouble grasping the concept of “place” on the internet. might want to work on that.

    Secondly, we also love to debate based on facts, but so far you haven’t really shown yourself worthy of me or anyone else taking time to engage you. You can here making pronouncements, judgments, and basically looking down your nose at us based on one or two posts. If you’d read more of the posts you’d notice that we already know about the problem of colonialism and how Africa was carved up by Europeans. As Nora pointed out, this book knowledge doesn’t really give you insight into the nuances I mentioned. In order to engage and educate you, I’d really have to care more about enlightening you. As it is, you come off like an asshole, and I have no inclination to do so. It’s not my job to give time and energy to every asshole who comes by here looking to put me down.

  68. clay harris says:

    i’m not calling you an asshole or a neo-con, or Fox News acolyte, all the things you have said about me. I disagree with you point-blank, and I am clear about it.
    But if someone engages me in name-calling, I don’t always turn the other cheek.

    It is your own blog. You can do what you want. I came to the blog to discuss , and that’s what I thought I was doing… I think these kind of blogs are healthy and valid.

    I will apologize flatly for any hurt feeling in this debate. However, I question the fundamentals of your logic.
    You have the name of your blog as “Angry Black Woman”, and yet you don’t want to debate race and politics with a presumably “Angry Black Man.”

    The latest news on tribal /political warfare in Kenya, and the persistence of Black-on-Black crime in the U.S. seems to focus even more on the effects of colonialism on the relations between African peoples. I teach in Washington,DC. This is not some remote academic issue for me. It’s good to have a open, frank forum on these subjects.

    How I do present facts without your interpretation of them as “pronouncements, judgments,…etc”?
    I didn’t write on your blog out of hate or even spite.
    And I didn’t start the name-calling.
    I want to play by the rules, but if we are going to debate, then let’s debate. Let’s even debate the facts. And then let’s actually arrive at some point of positive action…

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  73. roy says:

    Though this may be long dead. I have to agree with Clay. You’ve got a little more solid fact, and no one has really taken on your arguments for face value. Seems like they’ve attacked you and what you say, but not what your saying. I think the problem with PC is in some aspects it’s nice to be polite. Take those Muhammad Cartoon drawings from a few months back. Why should he lose his job, or even be killed (as some members of the Islamic Community wanted) because he drew what he believes? Doesn’t make sense when this nation is based off of free speech.

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