Earlier this year, the University of New Hampshire released a “Bias-Free Language Guide” that denounces the use of many potentially offensive terms. Some of these politically incorrect terms include “elders,” “poor people,” “homeless people,” “obese people,” “able-bodied people,” and “blind people.” Instead, “people of advanced age,” “people who lack the advantages held by others,” “people experiencing homelessness,” “people of size,” “non-disabled people” and “people who are blind/visually impaired” are respectfully preferred.
At first, it may seem as though the language guide merely seeks to complicate the English language and make seemingly harmless terms more wordy. Besides, what is the difference between a “blind person” and a “person who is blind”? The answer in short is that it acknowledges first that the subject is a person, rather than that the subject is blind. When adjectives like “blind,” “poor,” and “obese” come before a subject, it seems to suggest that the single term is the subject’s most important trait. Thus, it is important that we avoid these terms and speak carefully so as to avoid dehumanizing people with ailments. Upon realizing this, it seems that the language guide is not only fair, but also imperative.
Then I read the next term. “American.”
In 1492, when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and turned it red with the blood of countless proud, indigenous peoples, the land he “discovered” did not have a name. It wasn’t until Amerigo Vespucci came to the New World and began mapping it that the continents were coined “The Americas,” known now as North America and South America. Thus, it would seem fit to call any person who lives in either continent “American.” That term does not suggest a person from the Americas, though. Instead, “American” suggests a person from the United States. Many people find this usage offensive because it excludes a continent and a half. I disagree.
Being a solid liberal with a progressive outlook, there are very few situations in which I believe political correctness should be suspended. However, while I don’t think that Americans are wrong to call themselves American, I also do not believe that political correctness is excessive or wrong here, or that we should use a term that is not PC. Instead, I assert my opinion that American is a perfectly PC term to use to describe people from the United States. This is mostly because, in all the world, there is only one country with America in its name, and you’re (probably) currently in it. Just like the Democratic Republic of Congo is called Congo, the United States of America should just be called America. Nobody suggests that Congo only be called the Democratic Republic, so nobody should suggest that America only be called the United States.
Perhaps more problematic is the fact that we don’t have a single term that means “Unitedstatesian.” If we wish to avoid “American,” we have to say “citizen of the United States of America.” Other languages do not have this issue. For example, in Spanish, “estadounidense” translates to person of the United States, but we don’t have a word like that in English.
The reason people have trouble with the term is because they feel “American” should be a term for all people from the Americas. I think this is a non-problem because I don’t believe that people introduce themselves by stating their continent. A continent is not nearly as defining a trait as is a country. A person from Canada wouldn’t say, “I’m North American,” and a person from Chile wouldn’t say, “I’m South American.” Further, if American is incorrect for citizens from the United States, then it is also incorrect for people from South America and North America. If the shortened version of our country is unacceptable, then the continent without North or South is equally incorrect.
Political correctness is crucial to society. Many words and phrases used today need to be eliminated from our vocabulary as soon as possible to end subjugation. There are several secluded instances, however, in which people need to have a little perspective before they deem well-established terms to be incorrect.
And so I say, without hesitation, I’m proud to be an “American.”
(Note: On July 30, 2015, President Huddleston of the University of New Hampshire ordered that the language guide be taken down from the university’s website, stating, “Speech guides or codes have no place at any American university.”)