It’s Not About Being Politically Correct, It’s About Being Respectful

red-dress-flower-pants-legs-lake-michigan Photo: Alanna Bagladi

Whenever I hear somebody say something along the lines of, “I’m so sick of all that ‘PC’ crap. You’re always going to offend somebody,” I get very frustrated. To me, that statement is an unapologetic declaration of apathy toward the state of social inequality in our society. It’s a cop-out that allows the speaker to brush off any sense of social responsibility that they might otherwise feel.

While I understand that sometimes people expend more effort dancing around definitions than addressing important issues, I really do believe that removing words directly linked to oppressive structures from our vocabulary has incredible value.

Think about language — the ability to express ourselves clearly often depends on a shared understanding of grammar & syntax. Even our innermost thoughts are typically composed according to the same constraints to which our native languages adhere. Language is an enormous factor in the way we understand our environment.

Because of this, I feel that eradicating oppression of any sort should involve, at the most basic level, a conscious alteration of our own use of language to reflect aspects of the world we seek to realize.

Why would you ever need to use the word “slut” if you don’t feel that a person’s worth is dependent on their sexual habits? Why would you ever need to use a racial slur or purposely misgendered pronouns if you believe that discrimination based on race or gender is inherently wrong? The answer is simple— you never do.

To me, it’s not a difficult decision. Putting a little extra consideration into the words I use and the way I speak about those in different demographics than my own helps me to be aware of the frequency with which even the people dearest to me unknowingly express and perpetuate structural inequality through their gaffes.  It also helps ensure that I am less likely to make others feel uncomfortable with my words—and that because I am working toward such a level of self-awareness, I will be more likely to understand their feelings and adjust my language accordingly in the future.

I understand that people aren’t always purposely trying to offend others when they make ‘slip-ups’ with their language, but I also understand that the negligible inconvenience anybody might experience while modifying their speech habits in this way cannot compare to the harm and discomfort that is condoned when we refuse to do so.

Language is important. Communication is important. Words are important.

This is why I have no patience for those who have no patience for using sensitive language. Our words have the power to marginalize, to oppress, to perpetuate the most harmful structures in our culture. I feel a personal responsibility to ensure that my language does none of those things and I think it’s the absolute least I can do.

Madelaine Walker Anthropology enthusiast, bookworm & couch potato. In search of a life I’ll be proud to recount in old age.
Madelaine Walker
Anthropology enthusiast, bookworm & couch potato. In search of a life I’ll be proud to recount in old age.