When selling your home, be careful how you word the listing. Federal judges have ruled that the phrase “ocean view” discriminates against the blind; “family room” discriminates against singles; and “walk-in closet” discriminates against wheelchair-bound persons. The biggest, nicest bedroom is now the “owner’s suite” or “bedroom one,” but not the “master bedroom” because that phrase, it has been decided, is racist.
Federal judges have held that gender-related terms like “foreman” and “draftsman” are discriminatory. Nursery schools have stopped singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” replacing it with “Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep.” The term “brainstorming” is considered offensive to epileptics. (Now “thought showers.”) “Easter eggs” are now “spring spheres.” It’s not just words but symbols too. In California, five students were sent home from school on Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day, for wearing shirts that displayed the American flag because it was “insensitive to Mexicans.”
The rules of political correctness are ubiquitous and trying to ignore them implies a racist or sexist intent. If opinions and language are not crafted to fit the rules, they will get no airing other than social media, and there too, discourse is limited. For a severe violation of PCness, a person can lose his livelihood, his friends, and be sued.
The rules of political correctness are not based on equality or intent but on the reaction that “wrong” language is likely to trigger. People who identify with some group notice that the group is being referenced in a callous or misleading way. They petition publishers and media outlets to use more sensitive wording. Television then promotes the change until it becomes the standard and the formerly-unnoticed language is rendered lame.
But television goes further, taking on each “injustice” as a cause, which over time creates changes in attitudes that are not always for the better. For example, TV teaches us that racism, and not innocence, is to be presumed. It teaches us that even being aware of a racial stereotype is wrong. And it treats all violations of PCness as equally odious. Appalled TV pundits don’t distinguish between a tossed-off remark to a friend, a verbal shot in a moment of anger, and real racism (“We don’t want them around here.”) Television promotes intolerance of all non-prescribed views by labeling them racist, sexist, homophobic, or fanatical and it uses the accusation as a club, periodically beating someone to set an example, enabling television to restrict speech and opinions.
So people measure their words, fully aware that for practical purposes the First Amendment now only covers “appropriate” speech. (e.g. “My, the emperor’s new clothes are gorgeous.” “Isn’t every religion just as wonderful as every other?”) Authorities enforce the rules via college speech codes and laws pertaining to discrimination, “hate speech,” and “creating a hostile environment.” Said Jefferson: “I feel the blessing of being free to say & do as I please without being responsible to any mortal.” Today, friends must whisper to one another to determine what it’s okay to say out loud.
Political correctness began as suggestions for better manners – words and phrases to be altered or discontinued because some found them offensive. And it worked. PCness got rid of racial epithets and crudely racist or sexist jokes. Then it eradicated more subtle insults and it forced people to examine their language for inadvertent affronts. Next unfashionable observations came under fire. Then, unfashionable facts. Now, any reference to race or gender, even a relevant fact, raises eyebrows.
The trouble is that free expression and never giving offense are incompatible, especially since a person can take offense arbitrarily. (In a physical assault, the victim cannot simply “decide” that he has been attacked.) The option to take offense has become the option to censor. When people can talk openly, they can attempt to resolve problems that currently can’t be discussed or even mentioned.
Political correctness inhibits free speech, but opposing it on that basis in personal situations doesn’t work. When someone accuses you of an impropriety and you respond with a free-speech argument, you’re effectively saying, “I’m allowed to be a boor,” which is true, but it’s an unappealing position. To your accuser, you seem to want free speech specifically so that you can insult people.
First, take a moment to consider the accusation. It may be valid. You may have said something unacceptable without realizing it. But if the accusation is picayune, do not apologize. Political correctness thrives on acquiescence. Take umbrage and respond in kind to your accuser. Accuse him of speaking wrongly. Point out that he is offending you by presuming malice when there was none. Explain that although you know he has been taught to respond as he did, it was unkind. No one has to take offense. People choose to take offense. And they can choose not to take offense, as he could have.
In more severe cases, when it’s clear that selfishness is masquerading as victimhood, you might suggest to the plaintiff that that he get off his high horse. Suggest that instead of trying to control what others say, he try controlling his reaction to it. Tell him you think he’s collecting wounds, playing the martyr. To focus on something a person has said in order to deter him from saying it again may not sit right with you, but that’s how the purveyors of PCness have spread it and it’s the best way to contain it.
Challenge editors, producers, and journalists who go too far. Invert situations. Use analogies. Substitute races or genders to demonstrate inequities. React to each instance of television’s double standards with the same outrage television tries to elicit from each race-related incident. The goal is to make it politically incorrect to penalize people for political incorrectness. (An opportunity to react to excessive PCness came in April 2014 when Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced to retire after it came out that he had donated to an organization that opposed gay marriage.)
If you’re a member of a minority and you dislike PCness, one way to contribute is to avoid taking offense. For example, if you’re an American of Asian ethnicity and someone asks you where you’re from, don’t take it as an insult. Even if he’s assuming you’re from Asia, he’s probably asking because when someone doesn’t seem local he seems more interesting. It’s like noticing a person’s accent and asking where he’s from.
No matter what your race, don’t cry wolf unless there really is a wolf. There’s plenty of real racism in the world; no need to manufacture it out of flawed manners or imperfect wording. It’s America. Let people talk.
For more on political correctness, see The Five Rights of the Individual.