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The War On 'Political Correctness' Is Pointless

Since when did it become a bad thing to be sensitive to others?

It's time that we accepted this reality: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being "politically correct." 

The phrase has been around for ages, its earliest uses were more literal -- in 1793 it was used in a U.S. Supreme Court judgement, as in "legally" correct. Later, in the mid-20th century, the phrase became a part of Marxist-Leninist jargon, to describe the proper practice of Communist doctrine. Over time, after the rise of the counterculture in the '60s and '70s, what it meant to be "politically correct" morphed into what it is today: a language and behavior guideline on how not to be an asshole needlessly offensive. 

"Politically correct" is also largely considered a dirty phrase, an insult aimed at crazy liberals that's right up there with "social justice warrior," "tree-hugger," and "feminazi." For those who are anti-politically correct, the term is generally wielded as a weapon to criticize people for being too oversensitive or afraid to "tell it like it is." What do slurs like f*g and n****r have to do with actually being homophobic and racist, they argue?

As Youtuber Kat Blaque eloquently summed it up in a recent Huffington Post blog post, "Political Correctness is viewed as such a terrible thing by people who miss the days where you could say heinously offensive things and never see consequences for it." 

There are two groups who cling particularly tightest to the idea that "political correctness" is a scourge on society: politicians and comedians. Donald Trump's most ardent supporters admire his rebellious rejection of the concept. For them, when he denounces all undocumented Mexicans as rapists, or states that a woman's success is dependent on her sex appeal, he's just bravely "saying what we're all thinking."  

Meanwhile, comedians like Patton OswaltChris Rock, and Amy Schumer have been championed for refusing to apologize for jokes that some critics have found sexist, homophobic, and racist. In an interview on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Jerry Seinfeld complained about the "creepy PC thing out there” because his old routines about gay men weren't killing the way they used to.

But here's the thing: times have changed. Thanks largely to social media, the current climate has given voice to people who normally wouldn't be able to speak up about the things they find blatantly derogatory. Jokes about gay people that punch down are not only seen as less socially acceptable, but also simply less funny -- they aren't edgy or cool. 

"Everyone's going to be offended by something," Sarah Silverman recently said at the Toronto International Film Festival. "But I do think it’s important -- as a comedian, as a human -- to change with the times, to change with new information." Silverman has been called out in the past for racism and homophobia in her comedy, but even she can understand that time and context are everything. 

In this current era of so-called call out culture, Seinfeld's discomfort is, on a certain level, understandable. We live in a time when phrases like "that's problematic" and "check your privilege" have occasionally become empty platitudes, buzzwords read off a common script by people who, empowered by platforms like Tumblr and Twitter, sometimes take on unnecessary battles. Yes, there are social justice zealots. But it's important that we learn to discern the difference between the zealots and the people who raise genuinely compelling arguments for change. 

Political correctness is, for better or worse, a sign of progress. Now, more than ever, we're actually dealing with so many of the social issues that have been the many elephants in the room. We can all agree that things like racism, sexism and homophobia are wrong, but we've yet to actually unpack them in a way that's truly impactful.

Interrogating those systemic problems is bound to be uncomfortable, messy, and yes, at times, even annoying. 

To yearn for the opposite of the "politically correct" is simply to yearn for the ability to be comfortable, to maintain the right to trivialize issues that affect peoples lives. That's a privilege that not everyone enjoys. Using "politically correct" as an insult or dismissal is emblematic of an inability to approach difficult conversations with the complexity they demand. Being uncomfortable or annoyed is not a good enough reason to dismiss every conversation that hinges on social justice, as if actual social justice were the worst thing in the world.

There are people who will read this article and vehemently disagree with it, and that is completely OK. But can we all agree, at the very least, that it's time to find a better rebuttal than a phrase as empty as "stop being so politically correct?" 

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Most Politically Active Colleges In 2015-16: Princeton Review
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