I've come to hate that term and how people spit it out with righteousness or contempt.
When we first started using the term, it was in an effort to highlight prejudices and bigotry while reframing the words and terms we use as a society. It marked an era of people being more mindful of their language.
It is that original intent that is the heart of the problem. We started telling people “that's not politically correct” as a way of saying to them “you're behavior is wrong”. We decided as a society that it was the words that mattered, the way people expressed themselves that was the root of the evil in our society. “Don't say ‘black’ any more. Say ‘African American’. In typical American fashion we addressed the symptom and not the illness. Words spoken are simply a part of our behavior.
I have three young children. If one day I tell them to suddenly stop calling me “mom” and to start calling me “goddess” I would be changing their behavior. However, I can assure you that soon laughter would ensue at the ridiculousness of it all. Whatever good reason I may have for changing the name my children use to get my attention, it would be meaningless if I didn't convey to my children in a way that they understand the reasons for it. When we marched forward with new words accompanied with the challenge for “political correctness” we only set ourselves up to be resented and dismissed.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn't talk about changing behavior and language. At the heart of his message was nothing less than changing the very consciousness of American society. The goal was not merely to change the way things were done but to change the very way black and white Americans thought about one another. The disease was racism, institutionalized and internalized. The cure presented by Dr. King was not only to treat the symptoms of Jim Crow, lynchings, and justice denied, but a direct dose of calling out the mindset that gave rise to those injustices. His goal was to appeal to the better natures of his fellow Americans, reaching forward with compassion in hopes of receiving some in return. This disease has yet to be fully addressed and therefore is far from being cured. We continue to work to modify behavior instead of belief and understanding.
I can ask you to change the name you call me but it means nothing unless I have successfully and passionately conveyed to you the serious pain my previous name caused me and you have welcomed and respected that information with sympathy and a heart of love.
When people hear “that's not politically correct” they hear “you're a screw up and you have bad behavior”. This creates more pain and causes more injury rather than moving our society toward healing and wholeness. A war on words will never work if we do not address the diseases that bear the symptoms of language and behavior.
“Politically Correct” is a throw away term when we either don't understand or don't want to acknowledge the deeper problems that give rise to offensive language. If we fail to open our eyes to see the humanity in one another, it makes no difference what I call you for you will always be “other” rather than “brother”.
Even when the term is used with the best of intents it still is meaningless and impotent. It is a diversion, a denial, an act of culpability.
As a result, the term now is spat out at one another as a means of dismissal and disrespect. If you bring to me a concern from your heart and I respond with “I'm so sick of having to be ‘politically correct’!” I might as well look at you and say “That’s a load of crap!”. I am telling you that your view doesn't matter because I deem it to be nonsense along the lines of you asking me to call you “goddess”. It is a throwaway term through which we throw away opportunities to have meaningful conversations. It is a dismissal and no one likes being summarily dismissed. Tell me to stop being so “politically correct” and I will receive the message that you do not respect me enough to even consider my perspective. I will understand that I mean almost nothing to you, that I am nothing more than “other” and therefore of no consequence.
To all of this I cry “Enough”!
I am sick of it all.
I want to see the world change not because we’re told to or because it's popular. I want to see people treat one another like fellow human beings with the same problems, emotions, family dynamics, hopes, despairs, and daily tedium. Truthfully, the moment I see that you hurt the same as I do, that there is real pain in your life, that is the moment that my behavior towards you will change because my heart has changed. You won't need to tell me what language hurts you because I will see it in your eyes. I will be looking at you and listening at you because I see you. I have not dismissed you.
The symptoms of a mind that acknowledges the humanity of every person is a body that exhibits behavior rooted in compassion and empathy. We do not as easily dismiss a fellow traveler whom we have watched carry a load similar to our own.
Let us stop focusing on the symptoms and instead address the diseases that ail us. Maybe a place to start is with a question “Why does it not matter to you that I am in pain? Why does it not matter to you that your words hurt me?”. That might at least point is in the right direction.