By Brandon Abbs
Let’s say theoretically that I showed up to school one morning wearing a shirt bearing an inflammatory racist statement. Obviously, that would be bigoted and objectively wrong (racists aside – in my opinion, objective does not have to mean everyone agrees with it). But if you were to say, ¨That’s not politically correct,¨ that would not be the whole truth. So where do we draw the line between not politically correct and just bad? Just what is political correctness? If ¨politically correct¨ as an adjective is not synonymous with ¨morally right¨, then what is the usefulness of what we call politically correct?
I believe in Abbs’s law: if what is politically correct in reference to a certain idea does not line up with what is objectively right based on the principles of the world, then the use of political correctness in the discussion of this idea or subject serves only to hinder clear and good discourse rather than to benefit anyone involved. In other words, what is politically correct, or P.C. as the hip cats say, should reflect what is decent, not what is desirable.
For instance, if something is inimitably offensive, like blackface, it should not be politically correct, but certain realities, such as speech about raciality or, I don’t know, school shootings, should not be politically incorrect. Donald Trump saying Mexicans are rapists is not P.C. and should not be because it is offensive and wrong in all possible senses of the word. Yet recognizing it if a Mexican person did happen to rape someone should not be not politically correct just because it is undesirable information because it would be a fact, and one that the world would have to face or be in denial. Therefore, P.C. (political correctness) should not exist outside of what is wrong.
However, I will admit that this brings up a problem. Different people have different views of what is wrong and right. Though, as I said earlier, I am of the belief that there are certain ineffable truths about morality and immorality, this still brings problems. The people putting on the minstrel shows were doing a bad thing. They were ridiculing black people in a highly offensive manner. They were doing wrong, yet this fact likely never crossed their minds. If I was to time travel to the days of vaudeville and tell them what they were doing was wrong, they would likely disagree with me. Yet, this does not make it right that they were insulting blacks.
I interviewed Mr. Kettering, a teacher here at Batavia High, about all this, to get some valuable opinions on it – namely, not my own.
I asked him, ¨Where lies the line between ¨not politically correct¨ and just bigoted?¨(I believe, technically, those lines should be one and the same – something should only not be P.C. if it is bigoted.)
¨That’s the great mystery,¨ he responded. ¨That line is gonna move… [now] [the word] negro is offensive… at one time, even Martin Luther King Jr. would talk about the negro race. That was in 1963. So the line is always moving.¨
So, what is politically correct changes? I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. However, I don’t think it (what is politically correct) should change, except when connotation in language changes. It should otherwise be a constant, because bigoted sentiments are constants in their bigotedness. As I said before, an exception to this is that it is possible for the use of certain words or phrases, such as negro, to become more offensive and thus more bigoted over time, which would be a time when political correctness should change – when what was not offensive has become offensive, the political correctness of the now-offensive idea should change accordingly.
“If you’re too politically correct, you may ignore certain issues…[or] realities,” Kettering said also in response to a question about how P.C. can be harmful. “…When you drop a bomb and people are killed, I think you need to say we dropped a bomb and people were killed… If the wording covers up the realities, then we’re in trouble. Donald Trump …has said we are being so politically correct that we are not addressing certain issues.”
However, Kettering quickly addressed the other side of the coin: “But being vulgar and rude [is not the answer]… if people use demeaning terms, there’s no place for that.”
I agree with him on all of these points. Political correctness should only be in practice when what is being said would otherwise be harmful to someone. Sometimes, we use P.C. to cloud reality as opposed to employing the tool of political correctness to make sure no one is marginalized and emotional pain is not caused to any party or individual. It’s a great truth that when P.C. is harming more than it is helping, it’s time to take a step back and theorize as to why exactly the concept of political correctness has a stake in this line of thinking.
What is politically correct should correlate with what is offensive or harmful, else either certain groups of individuals are victimized or truths are covered up and the clarity needed to resolve and draw attention to specific issues is destroyed.