The perils of “PC” (Political Correctness)!

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Okay class, listen up! What’s the biggest problem facing the nation today?

No Tim, not the economy!

Sorry Juan, not ISIS!

Nice try Sarah, but not our crumbling national infrastructure!

No, the biggest problem facing our nation, so sayeth the pundits, is political correctness or, to put it in their words, political correctness run amuck. Seriously! But class, before we go any further, let’s step back with a brief backgrounder on “PC.”

Decades ago, the growth of cultural diversity, primarily on college campuses, brought with it shifting self-identities coupled with evolving language preferences. Accompanying that trend was growing assertiveness by people articulating how they wanted to be treated and what they wanted to be “called.”

For many those early assertions were communicated without rancor and with explanations relative to why they expected the change. – “Say Bob, got a second? Please address me as a woman and not as a girl, okay? I know you don’t mean to offend but when I’m referred to as a girl I feel devalued as a woman.” For others, those messages were delivered rather harshly and with little or no explanation. “Stop referring to me as girl Bob. That’s offensive and shows how sexist you are!”

So what do we do?

The answer to that question for the person offended leads to other questions, among them how do you call out the change you’re seeking. If it comes across as a personal affront, defensiveness – and maybe even downright denial – could happen. And trickier still is, if the message is too soft, too polite or too vague, then it may be lost altogether.

On the other side, that of the “offender”, if he/she is unaccustomed to feedback or sees nothing wrong with what was said or done, “you’re just being too PC” may be the retort or, if the message is too soft, he/she may miss it altogether.

Now to bring us up to speed on some contemporary thoughts on “PC” let’s turn to the perspectives of two columnists, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post and Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald.

Wrote Milbank, “The notion of political correctness has recently grown into the mother of all strawmen. Once a pejorative term applied to liberals’ determined not to offend any ethnic groups or other identify group, it now is used lazily by some conservatives to label everything classified under “that with which I disagree.”

Wrote Pitts, “(Screaming PC) is used to mean they are sick of not being able to insult blacks, Muslims, women and homosexuals as freely as they once did. But for all the (sometimes justified) criticism it receives, so called political correctness has at heart an important goal: language that is more inclusive, respectful and reflective of marginalized lives.”

So at the core of the conundrum here is that many folks with legitimate reasons for wanting to be treated respectfully, as defined in their own terms, have retreated into silence for fear of being hammered as being overly sensitive, or “too politically correct.” And for the perpetuators of offensive language or behaviors, the “PC” hammer has become a tepid excuse, a co-opt for an unwillingness to hear and accept an important, albeit uncomfortable, message.

So the questions are where does the lion’s share of the responsibility reside in launching into a productive conversation when the stakes are so high, when relationships, reputations, egos, dignities and even careers are at stake? How do we break free from this communication malaise?

Here’s how.

Never back down from letting someone know that they’ve stepped on your toes with their insensitive comment or behavior. Use clear and concise language to tell them that and why. Keep in mind that the “why” is as important as the “what.”

And if someone pulls your coattail on something that’s bothering them, understand that it probably took a lot of thought for them to muster up the courage to tell you that. And in the end, their feedback will make you a better informed person.

In the end, if we remove PC as a variable, the possibilities for forging strong relationships are many.

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He also serves as a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, New York-based Catalyst, The American Diversity Report and the Atlanta Business Journal. He can be reached at (470) 558-7310. See also

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One comment on “The perils of “PC” (Political Correctness)!”

  1. Karen says:

    Food for thought! I enjoyed the article.

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