I spoke from my heart, opinions formed only after first grounding them in what I understood as socially just thoughts about the world. At the time, I hadn’t yet been informed that the term “illegal immigrant” was distinctly different from “undocumented immigrant.” The literal part of me translated them the same, understood the two terms as equivalents. But she jumped down my throat, ignoring all that I said both before and after. Everything dismissed, I felt attacked, as though none of my opinions held any value. I had been speaking up for the group in question, and yet, here I was being disciplined, alienated, taught to filter anything I might later have to say.
The immediate dismissal, following of course an interruption of a passionate monologue (long or short), is a quick way to alienate those who might turn out to be supporters, thinkers who are willing to speak out and ask a question or propose a thought.
Likewise, movements need supporters who are willing to stand up for what they believe. As children we are taught that bystanders of bullying are just as bad as bullies themselves, told to step in and stand up for the person being attacked. Correcting language and advocating political correctness have a place in the move for a more socially just society, but only when done in a way that teaches rather than alienates.
There is a time and a place for the correcting of language. Just as with writing an essay, one must revise starting with the big issues, the argument and the organization, long before looking at word choice, spelling, and grammar. If the ideas don’t make sense, or there’s lack evidence to back them, then the word choice will never have an opportunity to matter. The same is true, I believe, with political correctness. We can use the right words as much as the next person, but without an explanation and understanding of why, there will be no real impact and, thus, no change. Words can make a difference, but alone, they barely break the surface of all that needs to happen.
Anyone can go along with the crowd and call Caitlyn Jenner a hero or say undocumented rather than illegal, but that doesn’t mean that they will make other steps to improve the wellbeing of the transgender community or even support immigration reform that aids the undocumented. Just as easily as making a language change with a purpose, they might just follow the crowd, and personally, no matter whether the issue is good or bad, following something blindly is never good. If someone challenges the idea that Jenner is a hero, only a person who has developed solid reasoning will be able to defend their statement and have the opportunity to change the ideas of others.
In the end, being politically correct is helpful only once the speaker understands the meaning behind the words that they are using. Unless we want to be like Nazis, blindly following what we generally see as a solid movement, we need to continue to listen and learn. A truly progressive world would be one where we use language mistakes as teaching moments, but only after listening and interpreting what the speaker has to say; a world where people feel comfortable stepping out on a limb in order to find an answer without having to fear a slip-up of words, thus limiting themselves to a few careful comments. When to be politically correct means to push thoughts and notions under the carpet rather than inquiring and learning, it is far more detrimental than it is beneficial.
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