Suddenly, being politically correct is bad. Donald Trump “speaks his mind,” and groups of supporters find it “refreshing.” Oh, wait, he is not speaking his mind, he’s speaking their minds. Their scared, lack-and-attack, reptilian-brained part of the mind that wants to dress in fear and rise up in anger.
If you look up synonyms for “politically correct,” you’ll find: unbiased, neutral, appropriate, and non-partisan. Doesn’t sound too horrible, does it?
A friend of mine wants to be called “a person of color.” I told her it reminded me a lot of “colored people” when I was younger. She smiled and said, “I don’t want to be called Black–I’m really light brown–and I’m not from Africa, so after a lot of soul-searching, I chose person of color.” That was reason enough for me. We all get slapped with labels, so it seems fair that we get to choose the wording on those labels.
I don’t want to be called “a person suffering from diabetes,” I want to be called a diabetic. If a friend of mine doesn’t want to “identify her life with a disease,” I will say that she has diabetes. Both of us are happy. We don’t have to lump people into groups to make our life easier. You can probably name six friends (and their nicknames), three colors of nail polish, several brands of your favorite drink. So calling similar things by different names is not a problem.
Political Correctness is about respect. Years ago, the word “retarded” was used by the medical community and the popular press alike to describe people with mental disabilities of all kinds. Then it became a slur, a term of disrespect to make people feel like the “other” and “less than.” Once a person (or a group) is “other” it becomes just fine to dislike them, make sure they don’t get equal opportunity, or make fun of them. Respecting people allows them the individuality to retain their dignity they way they want to.
The English language grows and changes shape, just like human beings. Oriental is now better expressed as Asian, although it is even more respectful to discover the specific country and call someone from Korea, Korean. Someone who doesn’t speak is mute, not dumb. Change is inevitable in a language built to cover new inventions and technology. Change in language happens every day. Sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. We all handle change differently. I’m still fighting to keep emojis out of business emails.
Can political correctness go too far? Yes. Anything can go to far. A social drinker can become a drunk, a politician can become corrupt, a doctor can embezzle from insurance or Medicare. It can all happen. Our work is to make sure we don’t become that guy, morally or ethically. Respect is easier to receive when we act respectfully.
There is also a time for sarcasm, humor and silly behavior. I’m a big believer in comedy as long as it works. When people are excluded and made fun of, it doesn’t work. Humor is tricky. It’s a skill. Be careful with it.
Although my parents were immigrants, I don’t want to be called “Western European.” In our society, I am considered fat, but I don’t want to be called “full-figured,” “big-boned,” or “fluffy.” I call myself fat, but I prefer to be called by my name. Ask, and you’ll discover a lot more about people than their labels. But talk about that, too. It’s so much better than getting angry because respect is something you claim only for yourself.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who is aware of the importance of words.