Disdain for “political correctness” is often positioned as a
concern that some important truth is not being spoken for fear of
offending someone. But that concern is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
To invoke “political correctness” is really to be concerned about loss
of power and privilege. It is about disappointment that some “ism” that
was ingrained in our society, so much that citizens of privilege could
express the bias through word and deed without fear of reprisal, has
been shaken loose. Charging “political correctness” generally means
this: “I am comfortable with my privilege. I don’t want to have to
question it. I don’t want to have to think before I speak or act. I
certainly don’t wish to inconvenience myself for the comfort of lesser
people (whoever those people may be–women, people of color, people
with disabilities, etc.)”
It is telling to me that those who
say that being respectful and honoring another person’s humanity (by,
say, using the preferred term for a racial group) doesn’t matter are
those who are not generally among the marginalized. It is rarely a
woman who complains that her employer is too strict in policing sexual
harassment or that her office works hard to eliminate sexist and
demeaning language. It is rarely a person with a developmental
disability who will argue that society has become too vigilant about
the use of the word “retard,” it will be someone like Rush Limbaugh …
To be quite honest, it’s a way to guard against feeling like an asshole for saying something insensitive. I don’t like that feeling of having stepped in it by offending someone, I don’t know anyone who does, and so if you make it about the stifling of your free speech, you get the out. If only people would stop being offended, you’d no longer be offensive!
But what’s the important truth not being spoken because of subtle societal pressure not to be a douchebag?What’s the important truth there that has to be protected? That some people ARE retards? I don’t think anyone would argue retards don’t exist. I personally think associating the Palins with retards is an insult to the developmentally challenged, but look, nobody’s saying you can’t say what you want to say.
Even the most doctrinaire civil libertarians in the world don’t think you ought to be jailed for calling someone a retard, they just reserve the right to look at you sideways and chastise you for being insensitive. I’m sorry, but your First Amendment rights do not include the right to universal approval every time you open your yap.
The argument, of course, is that political correctness prevents you from being who you really want to be, and that subtle societal pressure is as much a form of censorship as throwing someone in jail. Frogs, boiling water, Nazis sliding down slippery slopes, etc. All it truly does is frame the question somewhat starkly: How important is it to you to demean other people? Is it important enough that you suffer the consequences?
Yes, the consequences are different now than they were, say, twenty years ago, but that’s not some new oppression.The consequences are always different. Society’s definitions of what is acceptable are always changing. There’s some pervasive idea that everything was static up until 1969 or something, but the staggering amount of 18th century lit I spent college immersed in would argue the way the ruling classes treated people and the way the people took it or didn’t changed dramatically several dozen times prior to hippies and women’s libbers showing up on the scene.
And yes, people who grew up with one set of rules for acceptability find themselves uncomfortable with another because they’ll step in it occasionally. Pace Mr. Limbaugh, but the vast majority of people who witness an honest mistake will not cut your head off for it. (There are those who will, and they SUCK, and political correctness is just the thing they’re using to enforce their suck today. Without the concept of political correctness, they would use something else for their power trips. Again, twas ever thus.) But if you think the vast majority of people don’t know the difference between an honest mistake and intended harassment, and that you can pass the latter off as the former, you need to find some new people to hang out with.
I’m not bothered by some things other people are bothered by; however, that doesn’t make me right and them wrong. If I say look, it pisses me off that you do that or say that, do you have a response as to why it’s important to you to do that which is offensive to me? If it’s a good reason, maybe we can work this out. BECAUSE I CAN is not a good reason. It may be correct, but it won’t buy you off my shit list or anyone else’s.