Why I am not “politically incorrect”

The first time I ever heard the phrase “politically correct,” it was used by people on the left to kid each other about going overboard on their ideology.  Then it came to be used a derogatory term for people – but only on the left – who tried to win political arguments by defining the other side as racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever, rather than making a case that their own view was factual and moral.

Now the phrase “politically correct” is used to preemptively silence people who object to bigotry, cruelty, injustice, vulgarity or bad manners.  In fact calling people “politically correct” is a way to enforce a form of political correctness, and it seems to me that it is much more widespread and effective than the left-wing kind.

These thoughts were promoted reading about how President Obama’s outreach to the democracy movement in Egypt was denounced for being politically correct since, it is assumed, the only reason not to help murderous corrupt tyrant stay in power is a kind of weakness.

Glenn Beck (whom I don’t think we’ve seen the last of) once objected to Braille signs next to doorways as being “politically correct.”  Rush Limbaugh is famous for making inflammatory statements and then. when people get angry, claiming to be a victim of political correctness.  Republican senatorial candidate Sharron Angle said during the campaign last year that autism is “a politically correct special interest.”  Many white racist web sites boast of their political incorrectness, but I’ll just link to one.  All these people seem to think they’re doing something brave.

Some years back I learned the phrase “the language of murder.”  This refers to the language of lynch mobs as they hung black people, of Cossacks who burned Jewish villages and murdered Jews in pogroms, of homophobes as they beat gay people to death.  If I use their vocabulary, I am aligning myself with them..

What is so hard about refraining from using language that I know that people consider insulting?  If someone confined to a wheelchair prefers to be called “physically challenged” rather than “crippled,” it costs me nothing to respect the person’s wishes.  Yet tens of books have been written ridiculing this idea.

“Political correctness” is a prejorative term for taking offense where none is intended.  “Political incorrectness” is a boastful term for deliberately being as offensive as you possibly can, and then acting as if you were being persecuted when the other side reacts.


Click on The Importance of Being Politically Correct for thoughts of Ta-Nehisi Coates, a blogger for the Atlantic Monthly, on making an effort to be tolerant and inclusive even when it doesn’t feel like the natural thing to do.

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