Day in, day out, as our world seems to spin out of control, we come across the words “politically correct” increasingly often. The term, which should sound benign if not positive, has been charged with much negativity and those who evangelize it are seen with scorn.
What is the story behind this new movement, really?
Usually, people tend to think that “political correctness” is a tool against Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia and all such other issues when your opponents have no real standing but believe in these things anyway. For example, if you find that there is no way to reason someone out of their Islamophobia, you would have to invoke “political correctness” to denounce them.
In the same way a politician tries to please everyone with their sometimes ludicrous statements, “politically correct” people try to elevate themselves and appear to represent the right way of thinking.
But is any of this true? Is “political correctness” something new, something that doesn’t serve any purpose other than further aggravating the already agitated? The answer to both questions is no. It is not something new; rather, it’s more visible. Now, more than ever, there is indeed a need to be “politically correct”. In the past we could disregard others without expecting much of an opposition. Now that people can react publicly, we find it annoying.
Let us be honest, we are not seeing a rise in the number of xenophobes, but actually in their presence in our lives. We have always been taught to base our opinions on stereotypes, laugh at prejudice and pretend that we are open when inside we are not. We have been taught to be racist, to disregard the rights of others and laugh at them, because in our minds, “we are the majority”. Yet always, in the back of our heads we think and say that “a time will come when society will have to be more considerate and face great challenges”; this is rather ironic, if you ask me.
And so it happened. The point at which society had to mature. The groups we tended to disregard, because of their nonconformist or minority statuses, are bringing their demands forward, making their presence known and attempting to fix the ill deeds of our societies. With social media and the internet as their weapons of choice, they are finally here to “challenge” the status quo, the way we have been raised.
Here are two examples.
When we look at the refugee crisis, what do we see? Is it truly the cause of a “rise” in racism? Well, no. As stated before, this racism has always been within us. Only now that the “others” are on our doorsteps, slowly but steadily we let it out, at times with words and at times with violence and segregation. But it is illogical to believe that we would not have to face the consequences of our actions. Refugees are largely the fruits of our labour. While we tried to deny it, reality was slowly brewing beneath our feet. Now that they are to be confronted and not in their “primitive” countries, we feel threatened.
Because, while they were there, far from us, all was good, since we, the “civilised” ones, were their patrons. O, the disillusionment of being the charitable ones that would fix all their problems (even as we create more) with time. But time waits for no one, and so, they are here. They are still the same people they were back in their home countries, yet still somewhat different, since they are here for us to destroy and scar our societies, as we like to lead our small minds to believe.
We contented ourselves with more public displays of racism, until some of our “own” decided to react and hurt our collective ego. How dare they question us out of the blue, use their “political correctness” and claim we are offensive? What we tend to forget is that while we are only being told it now, people have always been offended by our behaviour. Always. Go and ask any immigrant out there and the vast majority will say they have seen it with their own eyes. They have felt it deep within. They tried to laugh at it, join us, move on with their lives, afraid to question the majority. And now, they have decided to react differently. Why? Because you can’t argue against inner racism, but you can challenge its expression.
Think of it like this. In the past, many used to laugh at all the degrading words used to describe the LGBT community. The homophobe said “Hey, look at that f*g” and the others laughed, even reluctantly, feeding their inner homophobia in the process, not daring to disagree. We cannot truly say that we are less homophobic nowadays as a society.. But interestingly, some of these passive listeners, aware of their past mistakes, have thus decided to invoke “political correctness” to react and disagree, in an attempt to express their true opinion, against all odds.
This is the real benefit of political correctness, despite those who vilify it, as a noted Greek columnist did: “It [the idea of political correctness] puts people in a box not only for their behaviour but also for their thought.” Such opinions are just as dangerous as their holders seem to think political correctness is, because although the speaker/writer may have good intentions, they have decided to turn a blind eye and effectively provide support and shelter to others who are still insulting and violent.
This all means that being “politically correct” is not a new invention. It is an attempt with various degrees of success to protect others and stand up for their rights, even if they are different, a minority, or cast out of society. It is a way for society to try heal the wounds it has cultivated by creating little cracks of hatred in our minds and souls over decades. It is a reaction from those who have realised their mistake. A change of heart from ordinary people, who in the past had joined the paranoia of words. It takes courage to do it – change is the most difficult of things we can attempt.
The same old words have hurt others in the past and still do. You, me, all of us, never used to understand how much they hurt, because we were the ones saying them. No one used to speak up, so we were lead to believe that our hurtful words were “funny”, “the reality” or simply, “words”; no one was hurt by them. Yet, they are not just words – they are not funny and they never were. This is where we see the need to be “politically correct”.
The pen is mightier than the sword. Words matter.