By Manuela Nikolopoulou
-“If he wasn’t so PC I would date him. “
So ran a conversation of mine with an American friend studying at Stanford University, California. Personally, I had never thought of political correctness as a personality trait, let alone as a negative quality, or as a deterrent for hanging out with someone. Born and raised in Greece, I have been exposed and am all too familiar with sexist, racist, homophobic and other non-politically correct comments. They are part of everyday life in Greece. Unless you are willing to argue – unusual for most students in Greece- the most common response is non-reaction, to ignore them. Perhaps this is why I was so stunned hearing the above statement in California, one of the most liberal, accepting and open-minded American states, and by a university student no less. Yet apparently, anti-political correctness is a growing trend in California and elsewhere, a prevalent phenomenon in university campuses, among public figures and actors and of course from none other than Donald Trump.
The main argument of anti-PC crusaders – such is how they often call themselves- is that political correctness poses a threat to freedom of speech and expression. That it is a word-manipulation tool that conceals truth often in order to control public thought. But one only needs to step back from the argument to see that the term has been so distorted that in everyday speech political correctness might have nothing to do with civil rights. Urban Dictionary defines political correctness as “A way that we speak in America so we don’t offend whining pussies”. It is thus associated with people being offended by straightforward, blunt talk. Therefore, ironically, the one benefit of politically correct language preventing you from saying things that are hurtful and insensitive has now become its main drawback, providing the term with its greatest criticism; that it creates hypersensitivity. Interestingly enough, the fashion of anti-PC has become so influential that it has expanded and exists among groups you never would expect. For example, a gay friend of mine claims he’s “tired of political correctness” when it comes to feminists.
President Donald Trump has been the main advocate of the war on PC culture. Where to begin? “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,”, he has claimed. “Obama, and all others, have been so weak, and so politically correct, that terror groups are forming and getting stronger!”, he said. Or how about this statement? “The enemy is cutting off the heads of Christians and drowning them in cages, and yet we are too politically correct to respond in kind.” Nevertheless, this anti-PC talk seems to be allowing and normalising extreme attitudes rather than “liberating” views, as its proponents claim. Trump’s case is undoubtedly an exaggerated one. But while this tendency seems to cultivate an illusion of freedom of speech and “saying it as it is”, its real consequence is rather to masquerade controversial, intolerant and anti-conformist stances. The variety in people’s gender identity, sexuality, diet, ethnicity, are only a few examples highlighting today’s societal diversification. Indeed, the spectrum of social groups might lead to confusion on what is politically correct or not, or the use of specific words and terms. Thus ignorance of the “mainstream” should not be mistaken with disdain.
This propensity towards anti-PC sentiments is also apparent in the UK, only here it works in the context of migration and multiculturalism. Examining Brexit, the Oxford professor Alexander Betts stresses the importance of inclusiveness and tolerance of polarised groups within today’s globalised societies. To incorporate and integrate these diverse communities in our societies, we need to encourage supportive attitudes. Anti-PC attitudes do not foster inclusion, but rather marginalisation and estrangement.
Endorsing political correctness is the way to acclimatize to increasingly divergent cultures; refusing to adopt the PC culture only perpetuates exclusion, grouping and “othering”. PC should not be considered jargon, but a universal language of sorts; a common lexicon for people to coexist and respect minorities and human rights.