Letter: So ‘politically correct’ actually means what?

From: Tom Lane


I think I am confused. I used to think I knew what “politically incorrect” meant. It was when some members of our society deemed that certain comments/phrases/notions, etc., were offensive to some people and should be avoided. At first, this seemed like extended politeness and then over-the-top sensitivity, especially when the “Happy Holiday” vs. “Merry Christmas” thing was playing. I was among the many who thought this is a little bit much.

Now, I am beginning to wonder about this whole thing. Early on, it reminded me of my mother’s admonition that we don’t talk about “that subject” with so and so. It was simply her way of not wanting to bring up a touchy subject or spare someone an embarrassing moment. We all grew up with these restrictions on our conversations. I am old enough to remember when certain subjects were not meant for “mixed company.” Mixed meant women present. Boy, am I old.

That was certainly a different time, but what it meant was that we humans have certain thoughts rambling around in our heads that are better left unsaid in certain circumstances. After a few drinks, some of that got let loose, and usually the next day, apologies were administered. Sometimes in a heated argument, those thoughts slipped out and ended friendships. We have always been a bit “politically correct” just to get along with the neighbors and family. This is not some new phenomenon.

Now, to my confused part. We have quite a few people who like one of our presidential candidates because he is not “politically correct.” He is “saying it like it is,” whatever that means. What concerns me is that we have uncovered a large portion of our population who think all those sexist, racist, homophobic and other biases are some kind of good thinking and now celebrate someone who is not afraid to voice that crassness. It is no longer politically incorrect we are talking about. We are talking about blatant hatred of others that now is allowed and encouraged in normal conversation.

The good thing about all this is we now have a much better idea of what our nation is about. Reminds me of going into companies where everyone was on board with what I was talking about until I got a couple of connections with the locals who would tell me what people said after I left. It never surprised me. Most people do not want to display their ignorance/disagreement in the face of someone who may ask them to explain themselves. So, many went quietly and subtly undermining efforts to make change, much like we have in our efforts to create a more equal society.

And now they praise someone who tells it like it is without any explanation of what “it” is. It is license to react from fear and misunderstanding and ignorance, without having to explain it. Very sad for us, but also an opportunity to get to what is really going on.