Community Justice

So what if I’m “politically correct”?

The polar bears had “caught a cold.”

That’s what the sign said at their exhibit at the zoo, anyways. While a cluster of mothers tried to explain this phenomenon to their screaming toddlers, I busied myself by looking at tribal art depicting seal hunters in fur hoods.

My accompanying male acquaintance made a comment about Eskimos, to which I responded in a friendly way, “I learned recently that many people from Arctic regions consider the term ‘Eskimo’ pejorative. Many prefer ‘Inuit.’”

I’m an intercultural communications nerd; the evolution of language fascinates me —these are the types of things that comprise the majority of my Google alerts.

He responded with an all-out rant about how he can’t keep up with the changes in what is offensive now, so he has just stopped trying. He said that being politically correct isn’t worth the hassle. And how, as Christians, we are called to be “in the world, but not of the world.” So therefore, he said, striving to be “PC” is “borderline sinful” in some way.

Looking back now, I wish I had deftly retorted with a calm, well-articulated statement intended to make him think about his uninformed and insensitive view on humanity. Something that would make him consider how contemporary Christians should act in a culturally diverse society. But instead, I simply moved onto looking at the tigers — seething and sickened.

Get on Urban Dictionary, type in “politically correct,” and be prepared for an influx of animosity:

Political correctness is the ideology of weird left wing liberals who want society to be nothing but accepting of all perverts and freaks everywhere; the main basis is not to offend anyone with one little incorrect word, and it has created a society that walks on eggshells and that has difficulty being personal with each other because coworkers and potential friends can’t joke around for fear of offending the other.

People are obviously offended by the term, which creates some weird loop: they are offended by a term which focuses on not offending anyone, so we should not use the term, so as to not offend them because they are offended by not offending.

Yeah — moving on.

Culture assigns meaning to words; without discourse, words would just be arbitrary symbols. Through discussion, North American culture has provided different (negative) connotations to the term “politically correct.”

Thus, I propose a language — and an attitude — reform.

Instead of focusing on being politically correct, consider being sensitive to the cultural experiences of people who aren’t exactly like you. We live in a multicultural society; the majority of us have some twisted family trees with roots in different countries. And some people come from backgrounds filled with oppression and racial prejudice, to which we in no way can relate based on our own personal experience.

We might not have a comprehensive history of a particular ethnic or cultural group. Perhaps we don’t know the etymological evolution of a slang word popularly used to describe the aforementioned group. That doesn’t make us ignorant.

But by lacking empathy for those who do come from different backgrounds, continuing to refer to them by a term they find to be derogatory, we are certainly acting ignorantly.

Plus, aren’t we, as Christians, supposed to love others radically? By not using sensitive language, we’re doing exactly the opposite.

Consider Christ’s interactions throughout the New Testament — they were filled with understanding, love and respect. Jesus called a group of disciples from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, treating each as an appreciated individual, and then continued his ministry on the basis of reaching all people. Even His final words before he left this earth were about reaching peoples of all nations.

I can’t imagine that seeking to treat people in a way that they would want to be treated — even if that falls under the realm of “political correctness” — would be sinful. While I do not condone supporting any lifestyle that isn’t biblical, I do advocate for living in a way that puts others’ needs above my own.

And in my mind, that makes being more intentional about my choice of words totally worth it.

Flickr photo (cc) by Foxtongue