contributed by Hugh Vasquez
Is it ever appropriate to use language that hurts another human being? The answer is an emphatic NO. Language is one of the institutions that serve to perpetuate racism. The language we speak serves to help mold our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about others. Language is how we learn to navigate throughout society. Language is part of the glue that helps us make meaning of life. Thus, language is a critical element in eliminating the mistreatment of any group.
Political correctness is a fairly new phrase. It has come about as legal struggles around our constitutional right to free speech increased. Some believe that anything people say should be left alone simply because we all have the right to free speech. Many college campuses have been at the forefront of this battle. The challenges to political correctness tend to come from those who want to be able to say anything without repercussions.
But the societal context for oppression must be looked at as these challenges arise. Language was a prime factor in forming attitudes in Hitler’s Germany which allowed for the murder of 6 million Jews. People were indoctrinated to see Jews as evil. And how were they indoctrinated? In part it was through the use of language. One only needs to look at the dictionaries we use to see examples of this. Take a moment sometime to look up the words “white” and “black” in the dictionary. What you will see is one word (white) full of positive connotations while the other word (black) is mostly negative.
Should we be “politically correct?” Of course we should if what we mean by this is eliminating language that is part of how mistreatment is perpetuated. We should all be outraged at any language that mistreats others.