Correctly Political: A Look into the Dynamics of Political Correctness


Every American probably knows what it means to be politically correct.
After all, we hear about it on the news almost every night. We have to be
constantly aware of whether or not something we say or do is going to offend
someone. This mode of communication is present in every aspect of our lives,
from the most formal to the most informal situations.
This paper will answer questions on the origin of the term ‘politically
correct\' and the applications of the communication pattern it refers to: who
started it, who is doing it, and why. Is political correctness a good idea? Is
it too pervasive?
Varying opinions on the definition of political correctness exist. For
the purposes of this writing the most concise definition available has been
selected. Political Correctness refers to matters of inclusive speech, advocacy
of nonracist, nonageist, nonsexist terminology, and insistence on affirmative
action policies, avoidance of Eurocentrism as reflected in a “traditional” canon
of literature, acceptance of multiculturalism as a valued feature of American
society, and dismantling hierarchy as controlled by a white male power structure.
(Hoover and Howard 963)
In a nutshell, political correctness is an attempt at changing the way
we look at things. The goal is to be respectful of all people and cultures.
Unfortunately, in the process of fostering understanding, the culture and ideas
that are presently embraced must be discredited and virtually destroyed. This “
traditionalist” power structure is constantly under fire in the debate over
political correctness. Nontraditionalists have proposed that we “regard the
creation of a culturally diverse community as not just fair, but as a valued
objective in its own right.” (qtd. in Hoover and Howard 967) In order to fully
understand the effects of politically correct thinking, it is necessary to see
it through time to its present state.
There is a wealth of information on the history of the term “political
correctness” and it\'s applications. However, scholars usually do not agree.
The most common commentaries have noted its use in North American social
movements from the late 1960\'s and within Leninist parties before this time.
“Politically Correct” seems to have originally been an approving phrase
of the Leninist left to mean someone who steadfastly toes the party line. It
evolved into a term of disapproval among leftists for those whose line-toeing
fervor was too much to bear. (Richer and Weir 53) Thus, the expression went
from having a positive meaning to having a negative meaning.
What we think of today as political correctness (PC) began in a
recognizable form during the social movements of the late 1960\'s. PC was used
as a self critique by social movements, each saw itself as politically/ethically
correct. PC referred to the culture or practices of the women\'s movement or gay
liberation or a Marxist party, but not to a common culture cross-cutting these
movements. There existed a shifting line of conflict between movements, and
groups could signify affinity or hostility with another group by proclaiming
these movements politically correct. (Richer and Weir 53) Paul Berman, a well-
known essayist, has a very interesting view of the social movement culture of
the 1960\'s:

“The left wing uprising of circa 1968 had two phases, which
were in perfect discord. The first phase was an uprising on
behalf of the ideals of liberal humanism -- an uprising on
behalf of the freedom of the individual against a soulless
system. The second phase was the opposite, at least
philosophically. It was a revolt against liberal humanism.
Is said, in effect: Liberal humanism is a deception.
Western-style democracy, rationalism, objectivity, and the
autonomy of the individual are slogans designed to convince
the downtrodden that subordination is justice.” (Berman 6)

The first phase of the social movement culture seems to have been the search for
peace and love for all. It appears that as time went on, groups became either
excessively radical or merely disillusioned, and turned on their earlier goals.
A once idealistic movement became cynical. Once again, “political correctness”
changed from positive to negative.
The best way to illustrate the incongruity of political correctness is
to present a few cases of it in use. Arguably one of the most outstanding
examples of affirmative action in the Eighties is the insistence of John Paul II
on beatifying Kateri Tekakwitha and thereby placing her on the road to
canonization, even though this 17th century Mohawk Indian maiden appeared not to
have performed any of the miracles traditionally required for Sainthood.
(Seligman 60)
PC is applied to everyday situations in many ways, but one of the most
easily recognized