In consideration of Political Correctness

I invite you to consider the following statement reported by CNN in an article about  Republican current (as of 2/21/17) attitudes toward President Trump.

“The country was going on a near-death experience collision. Political correctness was about to strangle us all.”

As a liberal I have long been bemused and annoyed by the conservative obsession with political correctness, but I never imagined that it was more than a subplot or, to mix metaphors, background music, to their major themes of small government, low taxes and hawkish foreign policy. So, I was astonished to realize that the voter quoted feels she is about to be strangled. If this view is representative, I have drastically under appreciated the importance that conservative excoriation of political correctness has played in our politics and how it may have helped fuel Trump’s victory last fall.

In that light, I would like to invite my conservative friends to pause for a moment and consider why one liberal thinks political correctness is very important. Every culture has a socially dominant group which holds most of the wealth and wields most of the power. Those that are not members of this group are perceived as outsiders. They are the “other”. They are seen variously as inferior, threatening or just strange. In the United States, I am sure you will all agree, the dominant group is white, Christian and male, but, obviously, our diverse nation consists of huge numbers of people that don’t belong—our minorities. Political correctness is simply the effort to use language in a way that minimizes the “otherness” of these minorities. It’s a show of respect, kind of verbal welcome mat. PC language acknowledges and embraces the amazing diversity of our country today.

Consider an oversimplified hypothetical situation in which you, a Christian, are speaking to your Jewish friend in December. After the conversation, you could say goodbye with “Merry Christmas,” which would be completely acceptable, but I guess that most people would not. In thoughtful honor of your friend’s beliefs you would, most likely, offer him or her “Happy Chanukah,” without feeling that you had somehow betrayed your own religious values.

Of course, in our diverse social groups, we don’t know everyone’s religion, so we offer the innocuous and non-committal “Happy Holidays” which drives conservatives crazy. If you insist on “Merry Christmas” in that diverse group, you are subtly suggesting that your holiday (that of the dominant social group) is more important than the other holidays. You are calling attention to the “otherness” of anyone who is not a member of your group and does not celebrate Christmas. It is a sign of disrespect. By choosing to use “Happy Holidays”, no group is singled out as superior.

Of course, the debate regarding political correctness goes beyond the “war on Christmas” to many other issues. Regardless of the issue, my question is, if you agree with the voter quoted above, why do these small gestures of inclusion offered to minority groups make you feel like you are strangling? What is it that you feel you are losing? Do you feel that you are somehow forced to deny your own beliefs? Is it, perhaps, still important to you to feel like a member of the dominant group? Could it be that you are not quite comfortable in accepting those other groups as the equals of your own?

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