A lot of people complain about how the world is “too PC nowadays”.
I’m sure people have complained about that in some way or another any time any social movements have started gaining ground in a big visible way. It’s not original.
These people complain about having to be overly careful not to say offensive things because everyone is “too sensitive”.
We tell these people that “being PC” is really just “treating people with respect”
And that’s kind of true.
What we’re asking them to do is to treat people with respect.
What they think they are being asked to do is something else entirely, and I think it’s important we acknowledge that.
A great way to really learn the nuances of a word’s definition is to see it used in context. I have seen the term “politically correct” or “PC” used in many contexts, and from that I’ve gathered that the definition of “PC” is not “treating people with respect”. It’s “hiding opinions that I know are degrading to others based on their minority status, in appropriate situations”
Think about it. What are people complaining about, when they complain about people “being too PC nowadays”?
They are angry, resentful, and pining for the days when behind closed doors, or even openly, when you’re pretty sure no one of such and such minority is around, or just “didn’t mind”, you could air all your gross opinions and no one would do a thing but nod along, actively agree, or maybe just laugh and hit you playfully, telling you “that’s awful”, as if they didn’t agree, but letting you know they do.
The “problem” here is not that people are suddenly “more PC”. It’s that people are no longer accepting this shit. We’re not awkwardly forcing a laugh to your gross rape joke, we’re not quietly putting our heads down when you pull out a racial slur that’s okay apparently because you’ve got a friend of that race, we’re not just quietly backing away when you say “that’s gay” to indicate how disgusted you are with something.
I mean. We are. Many of us are still staying quiet when those doors are closed, maybe sometimes we are still nodding along or just closing our eyes and hoping this person is not as violent as they are vile.
When you’re alone with us, you who lament the days where people weren’t “so PC”, maybe we are still afraid of you. Maybe we are still beaten down, maybe we are still telling ourselves we have to just cope with this forever, knowing more and more each time someone puts us down casually, that we are alone.
But you see, all these “social justice warriors”, online and offline, that you hate, they let us know it was okay to not want to be around you anymore. They let us know that our hearts starting to race wasn’t us being weak, that our blood boiling wasn’t us having no sense of humor, that our deep, painful desire to find people like us and feel safe with those people and feel valid in speaking up in solidarity with those people against you was not just justified but NECESSARY.
They gave us freedom. And so we joined them.
And then we met you again, online, where you think nothing matters, and we’re all too sensitive, yet you’re also very distressed it seems.
You’re distressed because we used to have a sense of humor. You’re distressed because we used to not be so sensitive. You’re distressed because we used to laugh along and validate your hatred, that you hid behind jokes and whispers and thought yourself better than those who shouted it from the rooftops, those who shouted it while beating people to death.
These people who complain about things being “too PC nowadays” are complaining that technology is such that we can find each other now more easily. That we can make our voices louder without the privilege or rare luck required to be published by people who already have money. That we can stick together, and tell them they are wrong. That while they sit in the “safety” of their homes, spewing hateful garbage on the internet, we are at last safe in our homes, to tell them this isn’t okay.
They are angry because now we can document what they’ve said and done. Those closed doors are attached to thin walls “nowadays”, where their hateful tweets and blog posts and rants are recorded forever.
They are angry because they can’t pretend they didn’t say these things, think these things, perpetuate these horrible things.
Maybe some of these people are not quite that bad. They grew up in a world where they knew almost no one like them and were taught again and again without challenge that treating people this way, thinking of people this way, talking about people this way was completely acceptable, and now they are in shock.
Okay, I get it. It’s shocking, yes, that we’re people too.
But there’s a time when that has to wear off, or it’s not even kind of an excuse anymore.
Shock fades. Bigotry doesn’t. Not without a lot of work.
People have a lot of reasons for resisting change in this way. Sometimes it’s anxiety, but those people tend to keep trying anyway, if slowly.
Sometimes it’s reflexive resistance to having to change in order to, yes, respect other people, now that they know better how to do that. Those people tend to come around too.
Much of the time? It’s what I’ve been describing. It’s people who are bitterly angry that they have to be accountable for their own words now. It’s people frustrated and enraged that they have no longer have so many “safe havens” for being cruel to marginalized people. It’s people who are so used to feeling better about themselves by expressing their toxic opinions about other people’s differences, making others feel lesser to build themselves up, being an adult version of middle school bully.
It’s people who do not hear “respect other people” when we ask them to please, please stop using that slur. Who don’t hear “respect other people” when we ask them to please, please stop making those cruel jokes. Who don’t hear “respect other people” when we get angrier, or when we cry. All they hear is “I am taking away your coping mechanism, which is to hurt me to benefit your self esteem.”
We are asking them to root out the toxic beliefs that their society has taught them. We are asking them to please, so that others may live at all, do this work, to be less cruel. But what they think we are telling them is “You have to keep up this mask all the time that you used to be able to let down.”
They were taught that what we see as respecting other people, could never be something people truly felt, or alternatively, that they can respect these people and think and say these horrible things about them as long as they aren’t around. They’re taught that the truth is that marginalized people are lesser, but that it is not polite to say so in public. So only say so in private. It can’t be about respecting other people for them if on some level, they are not seeing those they insult as people.
When we ask them to stop, when we ask them to please try to stop believing these things, what they hear is “please be fake all the time, instead of only some of the time.”
I can see being upset about that, in an abstract way. If I saw no other purpose to something but making a stranger less annoyed while in return I have to be very very uncomfortable, never letting my guard down, I wouldn’t want to do it either.
But what they are missing is that the underlying issue is about respecting other people. They’re missing that when you root out those beliefs, it stops being a mask. It stops being such an effort. What they’re missing, most of all, at least I hope they are missing this because if not, I am even more afraid of the kind of people that they are, is that this isn’t so that strangers can be more comfortable, it’s so that they can live.
Trading my comfort for yours? Always? No. Trading my discomfort for your survival? Of course. Always.
That’s why, while “PC just means respecting other people” is clever, a good soundbite, and a good way to remind ourselves we are not being unreasonable, it doesn’t really work as an entire argument. Because they don’t get it. We want them to change, they think we want them to act. And sometimes, we will settle for the acting. Don’t say this, don’t do this. Good enough, I don’t have to hate myself more tonight, and neither does this person, because we didn’t hear that thing said for the 50,000th time today. We’ll rest for tomorrow.
But ultimately, that is what it is. Settling.
So if someone asks you to please stop doing something because it’s oppressive, sure, you can take that as them asking you to “be PC”, and maybe they’ll settle for that. But what they are asking you to do is to stop behaviors that reinforce the pattern of thought and behavior that when joined together have lead to the abuse, depression, disenfranchisement, homelessness, suicide, assault, and murder of millions of people. No, you, individual person are not responsible for all that, but do you really want to be a small part in it? By choice?
When people ask me to wear masks more than I have to I get pissy too. But this isn’t “I’ll wear the hat my relative gave me cause it makes them happy even though the flowers are big and obnoxious and oh my god”. It’s “please work on not being part of a huge problem that literally kills people”.
It might sound dramatic but it isn’t. Our society is made of tiny little pieces. We are those pieces. We come together, in all of our words and gestures and behaviors, to create a society. Society can’t change without people changing.
Being “politically correct” might give you a political bonus, a mask, like all politicians wear, that will sell your goodness to other people.
But what activists want isn’t a thicker mask. We want you to change. It’s hard. And yeah, you didn’t have to before and that was easier. And yeah, it really sucks for you that now you can’t pretend you don’t know anymore. But it’s worth it, I think. Because if you are already the kind of person who wants to respect other people, maybe knowing that what we want is not “PC”, but “respecting other people”, that will be enough for you to change.
I don’t want PC. I think people are too PC. Putting on their masks for a little longer each day. I’d rather have change. I’d rather me and other people actually learn to respect other people, more and more each day. I want “PC” to go away as much as the bigots do. I want respect instead.