Political correctness connects people

For students, being politically correct helps facilitate open dialogue instead of stifling it.

by Camille Galles

Want to know an easy way to feel connected to the more than 50,000 students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus? Be politically correct.

“Political correctness” is a term that’s been up for debate on the Internet in the past week. A New York Magazine article written by Jonathan Chait — who dismisses political correctness as a “system of left-wing ideological repression” — has garnered responses from well-known comedians on Twitter and major news publications.

For college students, broad ideological debates can often feel irrelevant. But political correctness is of vital importance. In order to make it work for us, however, we have to reclaim it. Here’s how.

Currently, the term “political correctness” is too often associated with frivolousness. It’s a phrase that’s usually assigned to things that aren’t perceived as important, such as an off-color joke or “nitpicky” term or phrase. Those jokes and phrases aren’t perceived to have real-world consequences, and complaining about them is seen as whining.

Labeling a discussion as a debate over political correctness is usually a way to negate that discussion’s worth. In discussions about race, class or gender, dismissing thoughts about political correctness is often a strategy to distract from unpleasant truths. When a person’s ideas are labeled as harmful (or politically incorrect), individuals uncomfortable with that fact often brandish the First Amendment, becoming instant warriors for the concept of free speech.

Free speech does exist, and it’s important. Equally important, especially in a classroom setting, is striking the correct balance between the freedom to say whatever you want without government censorship and the freedom to not feel afraid of or threatened by what’s said. But a discussion of how to achieve that balance is almost impossible with the trivializing effects of the phrase “politically correct.” The concept of political correctness is clogging the gears of true debate and communication.

To reclaim political correctness, we can’t see its advocates as a bunch of meaningless complainers. Rather, we should take their claims seriously, even if this fills us with feelings of discomfort. Acknowledging other people’s requests not only makes them feel more connected and safer — it also has the same effect for you.

That initial sensation of discomfort that many disavowers of political correctness experience is really a sensation of growing: growing to accept different people, different situations and, ultimately, the differences found in each of us.

We’re college students. We’re here to grow. Dismissing political correctness in class discussions, papers or interactions with your friends is an easy way out of true understanding. But don’t be afraid of growth. Political correctness is a form of connection. And as college students, we need as much of that as we can get.