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What does politically correct mean?

Political correctness. PC for short. Some people see those two letters and think, “I hope he doesn’t say PC is bad.” Others think, “PC is annoying.” Additionally, I am sure some have no idea what PC means. Basically, it’s doing one’s best to not say or do anything that is offensive to another group of people.

For instance, one could say “African American” as opposed to “black,” or “Native American” as opposed to “Indian.” Personally, I prefer “indigenous people” to “Native Americans” because the people who lived in the land that is now America are native to a land that had no name. Thus, calling them native to America is simply incorrect.

Arguably the most prominent issue in being PC these days is that of gendered pronouns. While use of the masculine “he” and “his” as neutral pronouns was once acceptable, it is now viewed as misogynistic. Avoiding gendered pronouns, however, can be very difficult. Let’s look at an example of a sentence in which no gender is emphasized.

“When a woman or man is writing a paper for her or his English class, and any time she or he is speaking, she or he should watch that her or his language is such that she or he will not offend or ostracize those around her or him.” While politically correct, the sentence is incredibly cumbersome. Nobody wants to read something as painstakingly PC as that, and nobody wants to write it either.

So how does one use gender neutral language without sounding ridiculous? One method is exactly how I opened this paragraph. “One” can often replace “a man” or “a woman.” Or, the writer could eliminate the gendered pronouns altogether, instead using neutral language like “they” and “their.” The sentence “A person should watch their language,” is grammatically incorrect, though, because “their” is a plural pronoun. A solution for this issue is to simply make the subject plural. “When people write papers, they should be careful to watch their gendered pronouns.” Suddenly, the sentence reads smoothly and nobody is offended.

Now that we’ve defined political correctness and discussed some of its issues, a new question arises. Should we worry about being PC? Is the goal attainable, and if so, is it one that we are meant to strive toward? If anybody should worry about being politically correct, wouldn’t it be politicians? When thinking of politicians over whom the idea of political correctness is raised, Donald Trump comes to my mind.

A distinct dichotomy exists between Donald Trump and everything for which political correctness stands. In fact, Trump himself has said he believes, “The big problem this country has is being politically correct.” He says he doesn’t “have time to be politically correct,” and America doesn’t either. In saying this, Trump is suggesting that people should not have to suppress their true sentiments about others, which begins to make sense when I think about the freedom with which America was founded. I believe that people have the right to speak their minds, and in this aspect I support Trump’s statement. In comparison, I also support the right for responsible Americans to bear arms. I do not, however support the right to shoot people. In the same way, while I support the freedom of speech, I do not support the freedom to make an entire race feel inferior with racial slurs.

So should Trump be judged for his political incorrectness? Well, what if being PC were the law? When laws are written, there is a specific intention behind them. Jaywalking is illegal because it puts both drivers and pedestrians in danger. If a person were to jaywalk when the street is empty, though, nobody would be in danger. The “spirit of the law” would not wish to prosecute that person. Political correctness is no different. Everybody makes mistakes, so when people mistakenly use gendered pronouns or racial slurs, it does not mean that crucifixion should be their fate. Thus, I urge all people to take Trump’s infamous comments regarding race with a proverbial grain of salt. The man never seems to use notes, so it is probable that he will occasionally say something regrettable. Later when he begins to defend his regrettable statements, is when it is made clear that his character is questionable. To make a racist comment is one thing. To defend it is another.

Imagine if an entire generation never heard a slur of any kind. If our children never heard us say offensive words, they would never use them. Their children, too, would have no vocabulary for oppression. Oppressive words would, over time, cease to exist. It is for this reason that political correctness is so crucial to the world. The spirit of political correctness is not about forcing people to watch what they say, it’s about creating a society in which thoughts are considerate enough that all can speak their minds without offending others. By forcing ourselves to monitor what we say and write now, we can condition the world to one day be a place where political correctness comes naturally. Racism itself could very well become an institution of the past. Isn’t that worth taking the extra minute to speak with consideration? So I am sorry, Mr. Trump, but if America is ever to move past discrimination, we must find the time to be politically correct.

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