The question of political correctness Why political correctness isn't about free speech

Has political correctness gone too far? Have we become a society so concerned about offending various minorities that we are impeding the free speech of individuals? Isn’t the real problem that people are too easily offended by words used by others? Shouldn’t those people just learn how to shrug it off? Apparently, most Canadians think so. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with them.

According to a 2016 Angus Reid poll of Canadians, 76 per cent of respondents think political correctness has gone too far. While this sentiment was expressed more by older Canadians, it was shared by a majority of people across all age groups: 82 per cent of Canadians over 55 years old; 78 per cent between 35-54; and 67 per cent from 18-34 years old.

For those curious, politically correct means avoiding language or actions potentially insulting to marginalized groups. The term was introduced to mainstream use in the 1990s by American conservatives. Then, as now, it is usually used in a negative way—as a pejorative.

People complain that political correctness impedes on their right to free speech. Some go so far as to say that political correctness prevents honest discussions about multiculturalism or sexual and gender diversity. They say they are being censored, denied a voice. Whenever someone says this to me, I always ask, “What is it that you want to say that you feel you cannot say?” Nine times out of 10, I am met with silence.

For the purposes of any discussion about this topic, I think it’s important we distinguish between free speech, which is a guaranteed right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and hate speech, which is against the law as set out in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is not against the law for you to use the N-word to describe people with dark skin or the F-word as a homophobic slur or the R-word to describe someone with developmental disabilities. It is against the law for you to incite hatred or violence against people based on their race, sexual orientation, or physical ability.

For most of us, the issue of whether political correctness has gone too far will never be tested as a human rights case or a criminal matter. We all just want to live our lives in peace with as few restrictions as possible, right?  You can call it political correctness or censorship but it’s really just being a kind and decent human being.

I have a very close friend who, when I first met him, always tacked “girl” on the end of a sentence when he was talking to me. It never occurred to him that calling me “girl” might be a problem for me. It is. When I hear it, I think of slavery and I think of how my ancestors were treated and it feels like a punch in the gut. I told my friend that and he brushed it off a few times despite my insistence he stop. I finally put it to him thus, “It is your right to call me ‘girl’ but if your need to call me ‘girl’ is so important to you that you cannot stop doing it, then I’m going to choose not to be around you because it’s important to me that I not hear it.” He stopped doing it.

At the end of the day, saying something you know is hurtful to someone else for no good reason is indefensible, whether it’s against the law or not.

Featured Image: Politically correct means avoiding language or actions potentially insulting to marginalized groups. | Pixabay

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