Political Correctness and Private Conversations

(Kelly Kondo/Emerald)

You are casually chatting with your friend, when they suddenly criticize your word choice. Your words may have been “offensive” or “outdated.” You intended nothing mean-spirited, yet you’re at fault. On the other end, imagine speaking to someone when they abruptly drop a slur into the conversation. Maybe that slur pertains to your people and was used to denigrate them.

These two scenarios epitomize the complexities around political correctness. While being the constant subject of criticism can be agitating, being the recipient of slurs can be mentally scathing and can promote prejudice. However, no one needs to entirely reject political correctness or embrace it entirely, either. If individuals can learn to be politically correct in public, they don’t need to be politically correct in private.

Americans overwhelmingly reject political correctness, according to recent research.

According to an 8,000-participant study by More In Common, Americans worry over political correctness, as well as hate speech. After analyzing 30 hour-long individual interviews and discussions of six focus groups, the study found 82 percent of Americans view hate speech as a problem today. Yet, 80 percent of the respondents also deemed political correctness as problematic.

Political correctness is therefore definitely a looming concern in our society, although many critics of political correctness condemn hate speech. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to separate hate speech from free speech for some. Many consider speech that directly threatens a certain group to be hate speech, while others may also include words that are hateful of peoples in general.

However, there is no US legal definition for hate speech. Throughout modern history, the government has protected hate groups spewing hateful rhetoric. The American Library Association states that in 1969, “the Supreme Court protected a Ku Klux Klan member’s hateful and disparaging speech.” The ruling of this case, Brandenburg v. Ohio, was that the government could only act against those “inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

The belief that political correctness threatens free speech is irrational, although too much political correctness can be rattling. In private environments, it’s unnecessary. Lest you are intentionally berating a specific group of people, being politically incorrect behind closed doors is natural. Human beings should be free to speak their minds. That being said, often voicing politically incorrect statements in public can bolster racist, sexist and other toxic social ideologies. When society fails to condemn certain slurs or stereotypes, the victims of those slurs and stereotypes remain second class citizens in the minds of a populace. Word choice can affect how one perceives and reacts to others, especially regarding race.

In an interview with Stanford News, anthropologist Samy Alim stated that “when racist speech is prevalent in mainstream U.S. political arenas,” violence becomes more likely. Alim, the founder of  Stanford’s Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language argues that hostility recently developing towards American Muslims and Mexicans are a result of this mounting racist speech.

A major difference between casual political incorrectness and hate speech is that one is unintended if not used for humor, while the other is used to actively antagonize people. One is used because we are only human, the other is a result of others being inhuman.

Political correctness is meant to hamper hate speech, thus if you must be politically incorrect, do it privately. Even though hate speech has no legal definition, it is certain that actively hurling slurs and prejudice at others, borders, if not encompasses, hate speech. No one should feel compelled to be politically incorrect in public; it benefits no one and can incite violence toward different groups of people.


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