How many times have we heard “Oh no, you should not say that!”? We are taught to watch what we say because it might offend someone and be deemed as “politically incorrect”. Does political correctness serve a good cause or does it only prove to limit our freedom of speech?
Nowadays it seems that everything that we say is under the magnifying glass of political correctness. However, is it a bad thing in itself? It could be the case, to some extent, if we consider the concept of ‘victim status’.
According to Browne (2006), claiming to have victim status is finding a statement that is deemed offensive – or not – towards one’s community and using it against the utterer. It is also a device to kill two birds with one stone: The reply to the first comment serves to elevate the group that has been affected by the utterance that was perceived derogatory. A good example of the use of victim status was what the controversial Jeremy Clarkson said in reference to the tragic accident that happened to Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Beach in 2004. With very questionable humour he compared the 2012 Olympic synchronised swimmers “as nothing more than Chinese women in hats, upside down, in a bit of water”. He added: “You can see that sort of thing on Morecambe Beach. For free” (The Huffington Post UK, 2012). The backlash came from the family of the casualities but also from the Chinese community and the anti-racist groups, saying that “he had no right to offend communities in this country who live and work here and provide more to Britain than he does” (Phillips, 2012). He was in no point referring to the race of the cockle-pickers, yet his comment received backlash and media attention. This was also the occasion for a particular anti-racism group to value and highlight the Chinese community’s worth whilst lowering Clarkson’s. This suggests that political correctness can be taken to the extreme and that people can be offended by statements that are not intended to be politically incorrect. Nonetheless, it does not make what Clarkson said any less abhorrent.
However, is political correctness always going too far? Sometimes it can be put to great use and help the minority and the ones who are discriminated against. It is undeniable that policing what people say can be, from time to time, quite beneficial. It is especially valid for people in the public eye. They serve as role models for the young and need to be more aware of what they can and cannot say. Their words are heard, analysed and repeated multiple times. The role of the “thought police” can turn out to be crucial. Discovering that your favourite football player, John Terry (Chelsea), needs to pay almost £250, 000 for some racist comments should make you question racism and correct language – hopefully.
Political correctness can help change the mentalities and could broaden the narrowest minds in some occasions. Consciously choosing another words instead of one that could be deemed rude takes half of a second but makes a whole world of difference for your interlocutor. I agree with what Steven Pedrow (2014) wrote in his article for the Washington Post: “Language is about respect”. Choosing words correctly proves that you care about the person you are speaking to. Moreover, as Hughes (2010, p. 289) claims, linguistic adjustments can have a positive effect on one’s behaviour in some measure. It makes little sense to use nice and respectful words to talk to someone with the idea of hurting them. Even though it is not a question of getting rid of all the bad words, of course, it can prevent someone from being openly rude. Perhaps, if we start to talk in a more “politically correct” manner, we would, in the end, start acting as such.
As Browne (2006, p. 40) rightly said, “[o]ne of the main purposes of civilisation is that it protects the weak and curbs abuses by the strong. Few could oppose the basic underlying aim of political correctness, to redistribute power from the strong to the weak”. For that reason, we should be glad political correctness exists. Beside its advantages, political correctness has to face some disadvantages as well. We can note, for example, the creation of a “victim mentality”. Browne (2006, p.41) points out that political correctness, instead of protecting the weak, can cause more harm than intended.
THOMAS BARBERA, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK
Phillips, M. (2012). Tourette’s and how David Cameron fell victim to the “sensivity police.” Daily Mail.
Schatten, R. (2015). What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Political Correctness? – Blurtit. Business-finance.blurtit.com. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
The Huffington Post UK,. (2012). Jeremy Clarkson Jokes About Dead Chinese Cockle-Pickers. Retrieved 25 November 2015