A warning for politically correct people who get offended at the first sign of anything offensive, or benign for that matter. This post is not for you. If you want to stop reading further, now is the time.
I am as much guilty as anyone else of using politically correct language while posting on forums or even on this blog. This time around, I won’t be pulling any punches. It starts with an innocuous thing called self-censorship – using the good old asterix to mask out most letters of the word. So words with a sexual connotation (or those that are simply vulgar) such as balls, bastard, bitch and fuck become b***s, b*****d, b***h and f**k respectively. Then there are the seriously offensive words (more so in present day US) – slurs – n****r for nigger and f*g or f****t for fag or faggot, for blacks and gays respectively, the use of which against a member of that group can make you a social outcast (ask Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington).
The ‘beeps’ or the *** do not make the language any less offensive, and most people are not stupid enough to believe that it does (everybody is aware of the context in which it is being used), but it seems to offer some comfort. Unfortunately, things have gotten so bad that they have completely taken over television and newspaper articles. The only place where these words and their meaning can be found without their being considered offensive is the dictionary. And people have started attacking dictionaries as well (I love my potatoes, by the way).
Another favourite is the use of ‘he/ she’ or ‘he or she’ by authors who want to avoid a feminist backlash. If I am male, it is second nature for me to write about what ‘he’ will do. Imagine a 1000 page book with every address of a third person being replaced with ‘he/ she’. PC people will surely love that.
The above examples are just words. The problem gets serious as you descend into normal life. Columnist Anil Dharker wrote a piece on this over five years back (I do not support his view that PC is good and that it gets rid of bigotry. I am afraid that it only replaces one bigotry with another). But the best one is the one in Times of India by Manu Joseph. Addressing the Chair or Chairperson and celebrating Wintervals is absolute nuts. So is changing lines of nursery rhymes like “Baa baa black sheep” to “Baa baa green sheep”. I did sing that in kindergarten and it surely did not make me racist.
In cases specific to India, there are things like NCERT banning use of the word ‘fail’ because it stresses students. We are still more or less protected from the world wide campaign and can still afford to make jokes based on a person’s appearance, accent or intelligence (Sardarjis being the most common targets). But as we assimilate more and more with the world, the winds of PC will blow our way.
I can understand and sympathise with the logic behind PC. Persecuted minorities, females etc. etc. don’t want to be stereotyped. But surely there is a limit to what one should do about it. Political correctness, when taken to extreme levels, becomes a serious assault on freedom of speech. If you look deep enough, you are apt to find racism or bigotry or discrimination everywhere. What PC does is launch a witch hunt. Innocent people who are joking (or think they are joking) find themselves out of a job the next day, for no fault of theirs. People have a right to take offence to things. But they do not have the right to hound others till their version is accepted. Even in today’s times, while killing or physically assaulting someone is a crime, being nasty or offensive is definitely not. If you begin equating the two, soon opening your mouth might become illegal or politically incorrect.
As Dr. Gregory House, the epitome of political incorrectness, says in one of his melancholic moods, we all make mistakes, and we all pay a price. But if the ‘price’ does not fit the ‘crime’, PC becomes morally untenable.
Campaign Against Political Correctness fights the scourge that is political correctness. Do check it out.