Political correctness is like a man with many faces, whatever light he is portrayed in whether positive or negative, he shines. Or maybe political correctness is like a woman with many faces? Maybe it’s the many faces of a Caucasian woman who is vertically challenged or maybe the faces of an Afro-Caribbean woman who is a domestic engineer?
Does it matter?
It is important to understand the roots and initial intentions of political correctness which lie in the ideology of Marxism. As Trueman (2000) notes, by changing aspects of our culture to create a ‘social revolution’, this will destroy the stereotypical dominant role of the white male resulting in more opportunities and equality for women and other minority groups, ultimately having a positive impact on society. But is this still the same today?
Society today believes that political correctness is the motion of censoring words that we perceive as offensive or demeaning, or ‘taboo’ language. As Hughes (2010:4) discusses, by ‘disguising’ or ‘avoiding’ certain taboo words we only use language that is appropriate, acceptable and respectful to our society. In contrast to this, Gallagher (2013) suggests that if we insist on self-censoring or substituting any conversation relating to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or physical ability, then there is no hope in defeating the barriers we say we want to overcome. So how do we conquer these problems?
One method of disguising taboo words is through lexical substitution, replacing politically incorrect terms for ones that are more socially acceptable but as Andrews (1996:391) questions, does a linguistic response such as this really solve the extra linguistic problems in our society or help solve similar problems in the future?
Well, on one hand it does. As Allan & Burridge (2006:97) discuss, the substitution of the term ‘African-American’ for ‘black’ positively impacts this particular social group by making explicit the roots of their heritage. This creates an individual identity rather than stereotyping and categorising those by skin colour.
On the other hand, Spencer (1994:559) conflicts this idea and notes that these movements generate a ‘common political mood of victimization, moral indignation and a self righteous hostility against the common enemy – the white males’. Spencer (1994:559) also discusses that political correctness produces a moral drama between the oppressed and the oppressor whereby the oppressed demand recognition of their suffering. This is evident by ‘National Sorry Day’ held in Australia whereby the nationals apologise for the past treatment of Aboriginal people, Allan & Burridge (2006:106). As a result of this acknowledgement, this portrays the white male as an ‘enemy’ and ‘oppressor’ which ultimately categorises and labels this group negatively. Surely by doing this it reverses the roles and discriminates against white males for the actions of their ancestors in the past, thus making them a minority group?
So it is apparent that political correctness is hard to define and complicated in the way it should be handled. But is it really making the positive impact on society that it once set out to achieve or is it just targeting present day social groups for events that occurred in the past? As Andrews (1996:402) notes the multifaceted problems associated with political correctness show the dynamic interplay of linguistic signs as they act and react within the constantly changing social context.
ROSIE BROWN, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK
Andrews, E. (1996)American Speech. Cultural Sensitivity and Political Correctness: The Linguistic Problem of Naming [online], Winter, 71 (4), [Accessed on 25 November 2013], pp. 389-404. Available at:http://www.jstor.org/stable/455713?seq=4&Search=yes&searchText=political&searchText=correctness&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dpolitical%2Bcorrectness%26amp%3Bacc%3Don%26amp%3Bwc%3Don%26amp%3Bfc%3Doff&prevSearch=&resultsServiceName=null
Gallagher, B. (2013) [Accessed 25 November 2013]. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bj-gallagher/the-problem-political-correctness_b_2746663.html
Spencer, M. (1994) Sociological Forum. Multiculturalism, “Political Correctness,” and the Politics of Identity [online], December 1994, 9 (4), [Accessed on 25 November 2013], pp. 547-567. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/685001?seq=16&Search=yes&searchText=political&searchText=correctness&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dpolitical%2Bcorrectness%26amp%3Bacc%3Don%26amp%3Bwc%3Don%26amp%3Bfc%3Doff&prevSearch=&resultsServiceName=null
Trueman, S. (2000) [Accessed 25 November 2013]. Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/karl_marx.htm