August 18, 2019 | 83° F

Political correctness reveals basic level of kindness, respect

Letter to the Editor


Dear Editor,

In her thoughtful summary of using “politically correct” vernacular on campus, Brittany Gibson presents a nuanced picture of the debate taking place at colleges across the United States in her article, "Rutgers students debate benefits, issues with political correctness," on Jan. 26. In the same spirit of carefully considering our language, it’s worth examining the phrase “political correctness” that appears in some form 11 times in the article.

Since its initial spike in popularity during the culture wars of the 1990s, political correctness has generally been used as a pejorative, implying that language and actions considered politically correct are excessive and often insincere. Thinking critically about disparaging terms like “PC police” should invite us to answer two basic questions: What actually is political correctness, and what does it ask of us?

In simple terms, political correctness is treating others with the same respect we would expect for ourselves. It asks us to question whether or not we go about our lives wondering if today our lifestyles, physical appearances, relationships and experiences will be ridiculed rather than validated. It asks us to consider that our words — our slurs, our rape jokes and our offhanded comments — can convey more than just what’s on the surface, can tell someone their existence is fundamentally unacceptable or that they’re unworthy of basic humanity.

The motivation behind using inclusive language and taking care not to offend shouldn’t be performance, it should be a desire to afford others the liberties you’ve been given that you never had to ask for — the freedom to live, to be, to exist in a way you so choose, without worry for safety or society’s approval. Philosopher Jan Narveson writes of political correctness, that “(The) phrase was born to live between scare-quotes: it suggests that ... considerations in the area so called are merely political, steamrolling the genuine reasons of principle for which we ought to be acting.”

A quick look through the news using a Google Chrome extension that replaces “political correctness” with “treating people with respect” demonstrates the absurdity of using a phrase that obscures the noble intentions behind it. Moving forward, let’s be honest about what we mean by political correctness, and continue our campus discussion with the knowledge that what we’re really doing is debating the value of treating others with the most basic level of kindness and respect.

Liz Kantor is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and statistics.

Liz Kantor

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