When Is Political Correctness Too Much?


Political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct), commonly abbreviated to PC, is a term which, in modern usage, is used to describe language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. In the media, the term is generally used as a pejorative (expression of contempt or disapproval), implying that these policies are excessive.

I was raised in the last half of the 20th century, a time when some job titles carried gender-specific titles, such as waitress/waiter, actress/actor, stewardess/stewards. At least until the term “political correctness” or PC—seldom used before the 1990s—became popular and the job titles became waitperson, steward, etc. I still don’t know why gender-specific job titles were a problem, but apparently somebody thought they were.

And the PC matter extends not only to gender-specific job titles, but to race, culture, even new grammar rules. I have an increasing objection to the more recent trends affecting our history and heritage. The Southern Cross flag, more commonly (incorrectly) referred to as the Confederate Flag, has been declared politically incorrect as a symbolism of slavery. The Civil War had absolutely nothing to do with slavery. But the flags are being taken down everywhere, and a popular TV show, The Dukes of Hazzard, has become unpopular due to its use of the flag on a car. And all because a gun-obsessed, hate-filled, mentally-ill young white man named Dylann Roof pulled a gun during a prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June of 2015 and killed nine black people.

I remember the beginnings of another PC term during the late 1970s when it became politically incorrect to refer to Native Americans as Indians. Now another issue is becoming increasingly contentious — with many claiming the name is racist or discriminatory and pushing for a change; the name of the Washington Redskins football team. What many either don’t know or are ignoring, is that the team name came about to honor a Native American. When Boston received an NFL franchise, they named the team the Boston Braves. In 1933, owner George Preston Marshall changed the name to the Boston Redskins to honor then-coach Lone Star Dietz, an American Sioux. So the name actually pays tribute to a great people.

How did all of this political correctness mess get started? Initially, the term was mostly used in an academic context in debates over what should be taught at universities. In May of 1991, the New York Times published an article by Robert D. McFadden entitled “Political Correctness: New Bias Test?” in which he stated:

What has come to be called “political correctness,” a term that began to gain currency at the start of the academic year last fall, has spread in recent months and has become the focus of an angry national debate, mainly on campuses, but also in the larger arenas of American life.

Suddenly, the previously obscure term became common currency in the lexicon of the conservative social and political challenges against progressive teaching methods and curriculum changes in the secondary schools and universities of the U.S. Then conservative and right-wing politicians, think-tanks, and speakers adopted the phrase as a pejorative descriptor of their ideological enemies – especially in the context of the Culture Wars about language and the content of public-school curricula.  One quote I found that rings true to me is by Jan Narveson, a professor of philosophy emeritus at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Narveson wrote “that phrase was born to live between scare-quotes: it suggests that the operative considerations in the area so called are merely political, steamrolling the genuine reasons of principle for which we ought to be acting…”

We are well into the 21st century and the debate rages on. It seems to be a uniquely American matter, also, as it is rarely used in Britain except in the popular press, often reporting on stories from the U.S. But the right-wing politicos point the finger at the left-wings and vice versa.

“Political correctness” is a label typically used for left-wing terms and actions, but not for equivalent attempts to mold language and behavior on the right. However, the term “right-wing political correctness” is sometimes applied by commentators drawing parallels: in 1995, one author used the term “conservative correctness” arguing, in relation to higher education, that “critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of conservative correctness. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the Left is justified as a positive virtue. … A balanced perspective was lost, and everyone missed the fact that people on all sides were sometimes censored.” ~~~ “Conservative Correctness” chapter, in Wilson, John. 1995. The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. p. 57

In the United States, left forces of “political correctness” have been blamed for censorship, with Time citing campaigns against violence on network television as contributing to a “mainstream culture [which] has become cautious, sanitized, scared of its own shadow” because of “the watchful eye of the PC police”, even though in John Wilson’s view protests and advertiser boycotts targeting TV shows are generally organized by right-wing religious groups campaigning against violence, sex, and depictions of homosexuality on television.


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