McWilliams: Everyone is misusing the term “politically correct”

Leta McWilliams

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Growing up, our parents taught us manners. They taught us to say “please” and “thank you” as a way to show respect for others. Politically correct language is no different.

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The term “politically correct,” also referred as PC, can be defined as “language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.”

An arguably simpler yet similar definition can be found for the word “politeness.”

Political correctness shouldn’t be forced, but encouraged as a form of respect. We shouldn’t use it as a way of marginalizing racism, or as something to fight about in politics. In such a polarized political environment, we should remember to be respectful towards one another and using PC language is a step towards civility.

At Colorado State University we are encouraged to use politically correct language as a means of building community. It is no more enforced than the ideals of our motto “Rams Take Care of Rams.” 

As a society we are accustomed to labeling something as politically correct or incorrect as a blanket statement that marginalizes much bigger problems. Its basic definition has skewed.

There are many examples of mislabeling acts of hate as political incorrectness.

Amanda Taub’s article from Vox highlights many examples, one being about the Washington Redskins football team. Many are still infuriated about the lack of name change, labeling it as politically incorrect. Others, like Virginia politician Jackson Miller, thinks that there’s nothing wrong with using the name “Redskins,” and states that the debate “is political correctness on steroids in overdrive.”

Manners aren’t something you practice to make yourself feel better. You’re polite because it makes other people feel comfortable.  

The debate is being mislabeled as an argument over “political correctness,” when it’s actually an argument over racism. Using the name “Redskins” is much more than just politically incorrect. Redskins is a historically racist term used against Native Americans.

There are many other instances than just blatant racial injustice. It can be seen in mirco-aggressions against members of the LGBT community. Mislabeling someone’s gender is often mistaken as being politically incorrect. It’s one thing to accidentally call someone by the wrong pronouns, but to outright ignore someone’s preferred gender pronouns is a micro-aggression. 

People use the excuse that they don’t want to be confined to PC language, when in reality they are attacking someone’s identity.

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Another example is from President Trump, directed towards Chuck Todd. Trump tweeted at Todd, calling him “sleepy-eyes,” which is an arguably anti-Semitic insult. Labeling this as politically incorrect language minimizes the attack on Todd’s religion. 

Liberals and conservatives alike participate in this marginalization.

Liberals often misuse the term PC because it feels less hostile and accusatory than saying racist or homophobic. Conservatives will then take this mislabeling as an attack on free speech, stating that their first amendment rights are being infringed upon and perpetuating the snowflake narrative. 

Many use the argument that the encouragement of using PC language is a form of censorship. Prager U has videos about the harmful effects of encouraging PC language on college campuses. Jonathan Chait wrote an article for New York Magazine discussing how political correctness threatens free debate by stating it’s a “system of left-wing ideological repression.”

Would you use the same argument if your mother asked you to say “please” at the dinner table? Or if a professor asked you to address them as “Dr.,” “Mrs.” or “Mr.” on the first day of class? 

Manners aren’t something you practice to make yourself feel better. You’re polite because it makes other people feel comfortable.  

Being polite doesn’t cost you anything. Using PC language is just as easy as opening a door for someone, or saying thank you when someone does the same for you. 

Leta McWilliams can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LetaMcWilliams