Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Term I Hate

In the earlier days of this blog, I wrote several posts about words I hate (here, here, and, oh yeah, here). But there's another phrase I can't stand that I forgot to mention.

It was the subject of a Star Tribune letter to the editor I recently rediscovered in the pile on my desk, lost in the layers since its original publication on July 26 this year:

In defense of the 'politically correct'

On the July 23 opinion pages, I twice noticed the notion of political correctness twisted into an antiprogressive slur. A letter writer predicted that political correctness will be "our own demise," while a commentary lamented the marginalization of "those brave enough to oppose the politically correct agendas."

I am sick to death of these allegations of Political Correctness Gone Mad. The treatment of minorities and disadvantaged groups has advanced so much in this country, in part because of the language we use; a cursory review of media in the late 19th and early 20th centuries shows racist and sexist stereotypes that would be unbelievably offensive if published today.

So please, don't say that political correctness limits your freedom of speech (it isn't the law). Don't say that it is an oppressive speech code (that's just blaming the victim and victimizing the perpetrator). There is nothing wrong with allowing minority groups a seat at the table, and in using language that makes people feel welcome.

Michael Chergosky, St. Paul

This reminded me of a quote I came across by Phil Agre. I meant to write about it, but it (like Chergosky's letter) had fallen into the clipping pile. Here it is:
...take the notion of "political correctness." It is true that movements of conscience have piled demands onto people faster than the culture can absorb them. That is an unfortunate side-effect of social progress. Conservatism, however, twists language to make the inconvenience of conscience sound like a kind of oppression. The campaign against political correctness is thus a search-and-destroy campaign against all vestiges of conscience in society.  
Back in the early 1990s when "political correctness" first came into common usage by the Right as a pejorative term, I amassed a pile of clippings about this topic (including a cover story from the local alternative weekly City Pages, if I remember correctly). I was planning to write something about it (kind of a proto-blog post), but I never got around to it and at some point, the pile went to the recycling bin.

These two quotes say everything I would have said, so it feels good to get that off the desk, out of the clipping file, and finally posted somewhere I can find it.

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