Political Correctness, or “Being a Decent Person”

An ongoing question in academia is the issue of political correctness. I have so often heard people gripe about how it prevents them from being able to really talk about things and engage in debates. This poses a particular problem because a hallmark of post-secondary education is academic freedom, based in the notion that it is a place that fosters openness for different ideas and ways of thinking.

So is political correctness actually an issue?

I don’t think it is and, in fact, it should actually be understood as basic human courtesy, a prerequisite to meaningful academic engagement.

The first step is to understand what political correctness means. The general concept is about being aware of language and how you use it. It means that you pause to reflect the ways in which your discourse reproduces existing power relations and can be exclusionary to marginalized people. This doesn’t mean that you stop vocalizing what you have to say, but that you at the very least add caveats: “I’m not sure if this the right word…” or “I don’t know what would be the most inclusive way to capture this…” And voilà! You will both learn ways to communicate more effectively and get your ideas across.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right?

So why do we need to ensure we embrace political correctness in academia even more so than other spaces? Despite its claim to being a bastion of liberal thinking, academia has and continues to be an exclusionary space that is largely populated by privileged people. Thus, when someone of a marginalized identity because, of their race/sexual orientation/ability/class/and so forth, enters that space, we already feel like we don’t belong. Political correctness is one tool to change that situation, to work towards ensuring that we can all be a part of the dialogue instead of apart from it.

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One thought on “Political Correctness, or “Being a Decent Person”

  1. Jackie W says:

    I really like this way of looking at it! I am often viewed as being “un-pc”, but that is because I have a LOT to say and say it very quickly, loudly, etc. People around me, particularly my friends, are ALWAYS welcome to challenge my opinions though (as that’s just what they are- opinions), and I often find myself saying things like “how should I say this?” or “I’m not sure what word to use, but..”

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