What's the real definition of 'political correctness'?

In recent years, a new term has been in popular usage in America. The term "political correctness" is ubiquitous. It is heard in comedy, television, and was recently the premise of a failed movie. The problem, though, is how this term has been bandied around in discussions and debates on the issues of the day. More to the point, this term has yet to be properly defined yet people throw it around without asking themselves, "What does this mean?"

My idea of "political correctness" is not thinking for oneself, but letting a person, political party platform or organization one belongs to think for oneself (like those misguided individuals who actually take Rush Limbaugh seriously), or a simple unwillingness to challenge majority opinion. Denotatively, this could be its only possible meaning. Unfortunately, this is not how it is used.

Quite simply, "political correctness" has no meaning in its current usage. Supercilious in connotation, "political correctness" implies that people who have certain views don't have the courage of their convictions, but are merely being "p.c." to please some unknown entity. It is an epithet, a convenient catch phrase for those either indolent or just incapable of forming a cogent argument against that with which they disagree. An expedient copout, it exemplifies intellectual bankruptcy.

Among those who are called "p.c." are those who crusade for multicultural education, environmental consciousness, racial and gender sensitivity, gay rights, separation of church and state and other issues associated with the "left." In other words, their opinions often differ sharply from the majority. Think about it. The term itself begs the question, "Correct by whose standards? How was so-and-so determined correct?" Ironically, it is this fallaciousness that makes it such a good buzz-phrase; these questions cannot be answered. As a matter a fact, the "mainstream" of America is all over the board on these issues, so there is no agreed upon"correct" world view.

Who are those that use this McCarthyite term? Paradoxically, they are often those who protest "indecent" things, like blue references in TV shows or provocative music lyrics. They decry the decline of morality in America, yet attack hate crime legislation and work and school sensitivity training with the scarlet letter of "p.c." They taunt family values, but are against those groups that fight to make the environment we all have to share and pass on safer. They shout "freedom of speech" when David Duke wants to speak, but "obscenity" when Ice-T does. When centers of learning initiate curriculums that don't make cultural value judgements to the same extent as before, they shout "p.c." In short, those who use the term defend only that offensive expression which protects the status-quo. Others use it to attack those that don't think certain things are funny, or believe them to be tasteless.

Is it possible that just maybe those who hold progressive or non-mainstream beliefs hold them because they think they are right? Is it possible that a champion of multiculturalism believes that it is the more prudent path logically? I think any parent who allows their children to dress as either of the Simpsons (no, not the cartoon characters) is in desperate need of psychotherapy. If you think I'm anal-retentive, call me that. But don't call me "p.c." I happen to truly believe some things are tasteless. Anyone who challenges "conventional wisdom" runs the risk of being labeled with this term that implies shallow depth of thought. But there is a defense. Just ask the person who utters, "What does that mean?" in earnest. That generally trips them up and exposes "politically correct" for the false argument it is.

The "politically correct" are simply those who protest or question their surroundings what they see, hear, or are told to believe. In short, they actually have active brainwaves. The politically incorrect are those who simply want to stultify debate. They act put-upon, reveling in self imposed martyrdom, masking their conformity in a haughty facade of counter-cultural rebellion.

Although the implications are not as serious, this labeling of people with legitimate opinion in academic, social and political interface starkly mirrors that of the Joseph McCarthy era, with "communist." Meaningless labels are bad enough in entertainment. They have no place in forums of discussion and debate.

Tyrone Henry is a political science senior.

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