In defence of Political Correctness

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It’s become a bit of a modern catchphrase that “political correctness has gone mad”. It’s a criticism thrown about with such gay (sorry, homosexual) abandon that we barely even notice it being said, let alone think about it. Every now and then, say about three times a week, one of the papers owned by Rupert Murdoch will spin a story about Christmas being banned so it doesn’t offend Muslims, or illegal immigrants being given free trips to Disneyland, or something else designed to put the blood of middle England on a gentle simmer. Columnists in the same newspapers will complain about the “PC Brigade” and paint themselves as a lone voice of reason in a sea of cowardly politically correct sheep who are too terrified of offending anyone to speak their mind.

The anti PC brigade is so vocal and obnoxious you forget any opposing force even exists. It doesn’t, at least not in the way they think it does. Most of the stories about political correctness “going mad” are either made up or highly exaggerated. Christmas hasn’t been replaced by “Winterval”, that was an idea proposed by a business for a celebration that had nothing to do with Christmas. Subway hasn’t stopped selling bacon to avoid offending Muslims, one subway franchise in a largely Muslim community realised they weren’t selling enough bacon so they stopped buying it themselves to reduce cost. It’s not PC, it’s just boring old business, as usual. I mean look around you, does it look like Christmas is going anywhere? People complain about it starting to early and then in the same breath they complain about it being banned by political correctness. I’m sure there are some instances where it can “go mad”, but I have yet to hear of a genuine example.

People talk about political correctness as though it is an unquestioned and widely enforced law. They like to paint themselves as a lone revolutionary, daring to speak against this cruel dictatorship. I even heard it talked about as “fascism dressed as politeness”. People are extremely angry that they are being told what they can and can’t say and see it as a violation of freedom of speech. That’s all you ever seem to hear about. If PC is so accepted, why is it we almost never hear anyone sticking up for it? There are a million Clarksons and Farages rolling their eyes and damming the PC brigade which is apparently everywhere, I can’t think of many times where someone actually says it’s a good thing. This politically correct force which rules us all can’t be all that powerful considering nearly everyone with access to comments sections on websites or a column in The Sun spends most of their time condemning it.

What is political correctness anyway? Is it fascism and denial of freedom of speech? Is it a cowardly attempt to avoid “offending” people? Stewart Lee, on of my favourite comedians and an incredibly smart man, has spoken a lot about it. He has a routine where he talks about life before political correctness and how black people were spoken about by major political parties. His opinion (which I agree with) is that we are a much kinder, better off society now and that at it’s worst political correctness is “institutionalised politeness”. He uses the example of evil journalist Richard Littlejohn writing about murdered women who were referred to in the papers as “women who worked as prostitutes”. In his opinion it’s that dastardly PC brigade and those dead women should be called prostitutes. Stewart Lee brilliantly brings him down, pointing out this was simply an attempt at kindness and sensitivity, and goes on to describe Littlejohn sneaking out to the grave of one of the murdered women and carving ‘prostitute’ (before signing it “Richard Littlejohn, c*nt. Not someone who worked as a c*nt, but a c*nt”). It saddens me people are so against attempts at sensitivity, because that’s all it is. Most of the time when people use the “pc! gone! mad!” accusation, it isn’t even political correctness at work. It might be many different things.

1. Just not everyone’s as much of a dick as you

I recently saw a thread on a facebook group that I follow about whether looks or personality were more of a factor in deciding someone’s attractiveness. A lot of people were saying they didn’t care too much about looks, or people were more attractive if they were nice and so on. One commenter said people’s physical attractiveness was not affected by how nice they are and everyone should “stop being so politically correct”. There’s an assumption that if you are being nice you aren’t saying what you really think. Cynical, nastier types like to claim that everyone is thinking what they’re thinking and they’re the only ones brave enough to speak the truth. Sometimes, however, people are just naturally sweet and good. Not everyone is a Katie Hopkins pretending to be Mother Theresa,  not everyone agrees with the nastiest opinion. That’s the main reason people don’t like PC, they think everyone’s just pretending to like oppressed groups and forcing themselves to be more liberal and sensitive. Perhaps it’s a way of justifying their own cold dead hearts, perhaps it’s just a lack of optimism in humanity. Either way, the simple truth is some people are just nice.

2. It’s not that you can’t say it, it’s just not everyone agrees with you.

So many times you hear people say “you can’t even say *that* anymore!”, usually just after they’ve said it, sometimes on national television without spotting the irony of it. Look, freedom of speech is important, but what it means is you can say whatever you want without being forced to stop or being arrested. It does NOT mean you can say what you like and face no social consequences. People can disagree with you, people can dislike you, people can get angry with you, people can even collectively agree to boycott your tv show and get you fired. That’s not a violation of YOUR freedom of speech, that’s THEIR freedom of speech. Too many people assume that their opinion being opposite to a widely held one means that their opinion is being denied and oppressed. The rise of the Ukips is a good example. Their radical un PC policies have them constantly in the headlines or on the news or in sincere televised debates, yet they still complain that their right wing policies are being silenced by the liberal biased media. The Green party at the other end of the political spectrum has almost no media presence, despite embodying the left wing policies the media is supposed to be in favour of. Someone protesting outside your headquarters means a lot of people hate what you are saying, and that’s allowed, it doesn’t mean you are being oppressed. Being hated is not the same as being silenced. You often hear someone complaining about being “branded” a racist or sexist or homophobe or whatever. Right wing papers gather round them in support. They would have you think that being accused of bigotry is a real problem, more so than actual oppression. Guess what? People have a right to call you a racist. Listen to them, they might have a point.

3. It’s not PC, the times are just changing

A recent shitstorm in a teacup happened when a radio debate about diversity lead by Lenny Henry featured no white members of the panel. Angry White People on twitter were angry and white about it, calling it reverse racism and asking why a discussion of racial diversity didn’t include their race. Look, I’m white. I’m very white. I’m irish and pale as hell and have lived my life mostly surrounded by other white people. I see no lack of representation of people like me in the media or in power. I’d like to see more women, yes, but I’m fine for white people. It’s like an all white woodstock over here, they’re everywhere. We’ve never had a PM who wasn’t white (and only one who wasn’t male) and we have majority representation in parliament. Simply put, we don’t need to be involved because diversity isn’t a problem for us. James Baldwin said “being white means never having to think about it” and it’s true. People didn’t like it because for the first time ever we were being excluded. This wasn’t a problem for us so we weren’t involved in the debate on it. A voice is being given to minorities and oppressed groups sometimes at the expense of more powerful people. That’s not a politically correct bias, that’s just inclusiveness.

There is a lot of good in it. I hear people say things like “You have to think about what you’re going to say all the time!” is that not just good life advice? Did you never get told to do that anyway? At it’s heart political correctness is just an attempt to be more sensitive, more kind, more inclusive. It’s not even forced on us, we are just being asked to be nice. Is that really so offensive? So difficult? People just keep ignoring it anyway so why get angry? We are, mostly, better with it. It may be an inconvenience to you that you can’t use quaint racial slurs or insult women, but for everyone who isn’t in a majority it’s a great help and helps increase respect and tolerance. The backlash comes from angry white men who are being told for the first time that they can’t do something. They can’t just bluster through life without consequences, the rest of us have a voice now. Actually read those fearmongering articles and you will see just how puffed up and ridiculous they are. No one is stopping you hanging an England flag out of your car window. No one celebrates St Georges day because no one gives a rat’s ass about it, not because it’s offensive. There’s a gay black woman on question time who is perfectly qualified to be there. Your freedom of speech s not being violated, you are just being asked to think about what you’re saying for a change.

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