Recently, I’ve been noticing a trend in everyday conversations pushing back against “Political Correctness.” Like many buzzword terms or talking points that catch on quickly and dominate media streams, I find that people have a hard time explaining exactly what they mean by it. From my understanding, it’s a term with a negative connotation implying that people are dishonest and afraid to say what they mean because it’s not popular. However, I see it used as an umbrella term with a broad, vague meaning.
As far as I understand, being a politics and history nerd, the idea of politicians being dishonest with the public to gain favor has existed since the development of American democracy. So I wonder, why is this term bubbling to the surface now? Has it just now pervaded public conversations? Is it because there is a more popular push for inclusion now than almost ever in history? Perhaps, but I worry that sometimes it’s a way to validate problematic beliefs by implying that everyone agrees but is afraid to publicly say so. For example, I see this rhetoric when it comes to black-on-black violence in communities around the country. Many of my friends believe that there is an inherent problem with violence in African American communities, and they think it’s so obvious that anyone with a functioning brain sees it. Why is this an unpopular belief? According to some people who throw around the term “PC culture,” it’s because it’s politically incorrect to say it out loud. While I could have a field day explaining the problems with this kind of belief, I’m not going to do that. I understand why that’s a problematic point of view that is largely ignorant of historical context of this country’s policies.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s easy to keep quiet assuming that there are a lot of people who agree with you. It’s also easy to hear some of these statements and make assumptions of ignorance or racism. But the biggest issue here, in my opinion, is a political and social environment in which people don’t feel comfortable engaging openly with each other because of the fear of being labeled or stereotyped. Progress isn’t always easy or comfortable – people in this country need to understand that. The United States of America is praised for its unique diversity because it’s incredibly difficult to embody a melting pot without serious dysfunction. This is not the result of “PC culture” or liberal radicals. It’s the result of close-mindedness and dogmatic political ideologies that have been increasingly polarized over the past decade. These ideologies are so drastically and inherently at odds with each other that people don’t express themselves in a healthy, constructive way. This leads to social stratification the likes of which the world has never seen (Liberal ‘elite’ bubble, bible belt, etc.). The situation is even trickier when there are assumptions about vested interests (“Of course an immigrant wants open borders so more immigrants can come into the country,” “Of course this white guy is criticizing black communities because he has little to no exposure”).
So what’s the solution? I wish I had an answer that was neat and strategic, but I really don’t. I don’t think there is a top down approach that can fix this. The only way to solve this is from the bottom-up. If you know a friend who disagrees with you or doesn’t understand your perspective, take the time to painstakingly and coherently lay it out for them the best you can. Be open to engaging with people, no matter how ignorant you might assume they are. Be open to stating your opinion, even if you fear you might be labeled a racist. Call people out when you have a problem with what they’re saying, in a way that’s respectful (even if their beliefs are inherently disrespectful). It might not be comfortable, and it certainly won’t be easy – but it’s the only way. It won’t change everything overnight, but I guarantee it can make a difference – I’ve seen it and experienced it with my own friends and family. Growing up in a Pakistani-American family whose views largely differ from my own has taught me to be patient and to never stop trying to express myself. I want to be understood, not just by those who agree with me – but even those who don’t. That means instead of making convenient assumptions about those who are different, I have to engage. I have to listen. I have to tear my hair out trying to be understood. That’s the beauty and the frustration of being in one of the most diverse, greatest countries in the world. Enjoy it, because it’s never been done before.