A few years ago when I was studying English education as an undergrad, I had to take a linguistics class for teachers. One day in class, we viewed a youtube excerpt from one of George Carlin’s stage performances. While his platform was often categorized under stage comedy and often brought belly laughs from his audience, Carlin could (and can) be considered as one of the greatest American culture commentators of our time.
The segment that I remember from class is of Carlin commenting on how words have changed drastically over the course of 50 to a 100 years because people became too conscious of each others’ feelings. For example, during the Civil War, many soldiers who came from the war suffered from what was then called “shell shock.” By the time the 70’s and 80’s came about (and even into today’s times), the word had transformed itself into post traumatic stress disorder.
Carlin’s argument was that the term “shell shocked” was a word that was “too real,” too close to the suffering so that over time, people developed a word to disassociate themselves from the reality of the person’s suffering. Post traumatic stress disorder is so much cleaner and culturally acceptable than shell shocked. Disassociation allows us to look at its horrors without becoming too distraught over it ourselves.
This kind of disassociation is everywhere, even today. In America, we just can’t be plain old Americans anymore. We have to distinguish ourselves from others by slapping labels on each other. Irish Americans/Irish Catholics, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics immediately come to mind when I think of “political correctness.” Even within the roles of gender and sex do we try to differentiate differences. Businessperson instead of businessman or woman and many other similar words as well as gender nonconforming instead of gay, lesbian, or transgender.
I recognize that we need to recognize and accept the differences of our fellow citizens. This is what makes our country great and is necessary to live in peace with each other. But in our efforts to celebrate our differences, aren’t we erasing and running them together so that we can’t see them? Are we alienating ourselves from each other by creating so many different groups that we could never bridge the gap between us in order to create unification as a country?
I’m a woman. I want to celebrate being a woman and not have a label slapped on me. I have Native American, German, Scottish, and English backgrounds, but I don’t want my past to become my present. It’s part of me, but it shouldn’t have to overwhelm me until it becomes my identity. I want to be an American woman who happens to have these things as my background.
If you haven’t guessed, I don’t like being politically correct. Being politically correct puts labelling limitations on every one of us. It puts up barriers instead of breaking them down, causing us to be afraid of stepping on the toes of others. It seems illogical to create these kinds of barriers in a time of change and acceptance. Some words don’t need to be changed or forced upon us.
Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule. Some words have such a negative connotation that they need to be thrown out, and in those cases, it needs to be acceptable. Some words are just derrogatory. There’s no doubt it’s a double edge sword. What words are truly offensive and which ones are just fine the way it is. But there are some words, in order to become socially acceptable, have become too much of a mouthful. Isn’t there a word that hits close to home without becoming a mouthful in the very least? Why can’t we all just be, without creating new “politically correct” labels?
As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It can only block us from addressing important racial, cultural, and gender issues that need to be discussed and healed in order to move foreword. And that’s all I, and everybody else are only trying to convey.
This entry was inspired by the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: P.C.: Is political correctness a useful concept, or does it stifle honest discussion?