Bette Smith, from Dundee says that po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is sim­ply an­other way of say­ing that peo­ple should be treated with re­spect.


We have all heard some­one ex­claim “It’s po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad!” re­fer­ring to some petty rule that no-one likes, but let us be per­fectly clear what po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is, why it ex­ists and what it has done to help our so­ci­ety. The defini­tion is as fol­lows: “The avoid­ance of forms of ex­pres­sion or ac­tion that are per­ceived to ex­clude, marginalise or in­sult groups of peo­ple who are so­cially dis­ad­van­taged or dis­crim­i­nated against, es­pe­cially groups de­fined by sex or race.” The term has mainly come into use in the lat­ter part of the 20th cen­tury and has been given a bit of a bad name, but I think it could be termed as treat­ing other peo­ple with re­spect and agree­ing not to be of­fen­sive to oth­ers, also known as be­ing kind or be­ing a nice per­son. The au­thor Neil Gaiman has said that po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness means “not be­ing a d*ck”. Just 50 or 60 years ago it was per­fectly ac­cept­able, and even amus­ing to some, to make dis­parag­ing re­marks based on gen­der or racial stereo­typ­ing – watch­ing some main­stream com­edy shows (I use the term loosely) from the 70s is an un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence to us now. I feel like cring­ing with shame to see how po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect, and quite frankly, un­funny these were. At the time they were the norm but the ad­vent of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has brought an end to this sort of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour which, at the time, was re­garded as harm­less fun. This does not mean that there has to be an end to fun. There can still be fun – just not the type that is at some­one else’s ex­pense. The kind that, quite frankly, we must all recog­nise from the play­ground – the bul­ly­ing and un­kind type of ‘fun’ that we should know bet­ter than to take part in. Like laws, po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is there to make us be­have that bit bet­ter than we may be in­clined to­wards at times. It sets a stan­dard, a bench­mark that we should all aspire to. Ev­ery­one knows that we should be­have in a tol­er­ant and civilised man­ner but it seems to be more dif­fi­cult for cer­tain types of peo­ple. Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has brought us for­ward in so many ways. We can all think of some words and ex­pres­sions that were used as a mat­ter of course that are now not only un­ac­cept­able, but ab­so­lutely re­volt­ing to al­most ev­ery­one. We have ma­tured as a so­ci­ety and this old style of be­hav­iour is now un­ac­cept­able in most peo­ple’s eyes. Po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness was of­ten born of ig­no­rance and we have all heard peo­ple say­ing they “don’t mean any­thing by it,” when mak­ing an in­sult­ing com­ment or us­ing an in­ap­pro­pri­ate term. That is all very well but then a change should be made af­ter re­al­is­ing that what you have said is of­fen­sive to oth­ers. It is the in­sis­tence on con­tin­u­ing to use these terms, even once it has been made clear that they are of­fen­sive, that is un­ac­cept­able and po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect. So, po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has brought so­ci­ety nearer to the stan­dard it ought to aspire to – free from dis­crim­i­na­tion and prej­u­dice. How­ever, we still have a long way to go. Peo­ple are still abused be­cause of race, eth­nic­ity and sex­u­al­ity, but when we think how far we have come from the Holo­caust and its hor­rors, to liv­ing in a so­ci­ety which agrees, for the most part, that peo­ple de­serve to be treated equally, we have to thank po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness for that progress and that fun­da­men­tal change in peo­ple’s think­ing. We also need to recog­nise that po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness may not have gone far enough. Un­til we can say with con­fi­dence that we, as a so­ci­ety, are kind and act like nice peo­ple to all oth­ers, that we avoid ex­clud­ing, marginal­is­ing or in­sult­ing those who are so­cially dis­ad­van­taged – be they eth­nic mi­nori­ties, women, gay or trans­gen­der peo­ple, un­til that time, we need po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. And even then, if we don’t keep it around to re­mind us where our lines have been drawn, we may slip – as is hap­pen­ing right now in some first world coun­tries. So, three cheers for po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. It has raised us up from the gut­ter and made us all bet­ter peo­ple.

The au­thor Neil Gaiman has said that po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness sim­ply means, “not be­ing a d*ck”!

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