Okay, this has bothered me for a while: the term "political correctness" and the popular disdain for everything it embodies. I just want to delve into a few iterations of the many things labeled "political correctness" now, and express my concerns.
First, there is the political correctness of not using ethnic slurs. Now, I am all for freedom of speech. But, I personally think that political correctness in this respect is probably in the best interest of the speaker in order to seem halfway civil, in addition to it being considerate to others. It is a difficult balance between freedom to express yourself and the necessity to try not to alienate other people and earn enemies from the group that you alienate and people who are sensitive to such mistreatment, but it is one that people should at least make an attempt to make. But, if you don't, that's your decision. Freedom to be an asshole.
Next, there is the political correctness of attempting to use more inclusive, and more culturally sensitive words when describing things. This includes things like saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", changing the suffix "-man" to "-person", and using terms like "African American" in order to avoid a potentially charged term that may not quite qualify as a slur, but is borderline. Now, I find this to be more of personal choice, and enjoy it when institutions, political or otherwise, tend on the more politically correct, inclusive side. That isn't to say that people need to always use these terms in casual conversation, but it is notable to say that such a courtesy shouldn't be responded to with disgust that is normally levelled upon people who have been people accused of "political correctness". People should not be expected to use the more inclusive and sensitive terms at large, but it is just pathetic to flip your lid when people do actually decide to use them.
Our third subset of political correctness seems to be a general disdain towards stereotypes and towards seemingly hostile criticism of historically oppressed minorities. This is incredibly touchy. It is something that we seem to misunderstand and bungle too often. It is in place when fear of being called racist makes people too unwilling to mention or deal with legitimate problems, and when mere mention of the problem is too close with traditional stereotypes and racist rationalizations for it to be accepted without emotions being aroused. A good example is people being called antisemitic for being opposed to whatever the hell Israel happens to be doing at the moment. Legitimate criticism becomes drowned out by the memories of similar, more politically motivated (and malicious, disingenuous) criticisms. Again, free speech trumps all, but our gradual transition out of some of our darkest, least rational, and most hateful periods (you know...everything prior to this year) leaves us with shell shock in regards to similar rhetoric. The kind of political correctness that squelches anything remotely seeming like a stereotype is a kind that deserves to be stood up against. Then again, if your stand against it is actually hostile, politically motivated stereotypes, distortions, and propaganda...perhaps you deserved to be squelched. At very least, you'll deserve the criticism and disdain that you yourself provoke by not only breaking our newfound taboo of insulting the chronically insulted, but also being deceitful about doing it.
And, finally, there is the "political correctness" of leaving groups and ideas completely immune to scrutiny of any kind. This is the kind of political correctness that is most popular with religious groups, but also exists in cultural groups. Not only do they seek protection from criticism that is counterfactual and based on prejudice and contempt for their fundamental identity, as afforded above, but they also seek protection from any criticism, including critique of their institutions and belief system. Now, in fairness, even if criticizing ideas and organizations is different than criticizing people, if that individual's identity is defined by those ideas or that organization, and only a minority of people can claim the same, then it is rather personal to them to make this criticism, especially if it is done in an uncouth manner. And yet, if done in a manner that is made clear to not be directed towards those people, and in manner that is factually correct (despite technically being politically incorrect) it is nowhere near the same level of transgression as the above taboos (referring to traditional unevidenced stereotypes, using ethnic slurs, using language that specifically degrades or excludes them), and can probably be forgiven.
So, feel free to denounce female genital mutiliation, honor killings, cultural misogyny, or whatever the hell you want. As long as you are not routinely dismissing the people, and are doing the criticism in a manner that isn't overly imperialistic, accusatory, and crude, you should be free to criticize things that deserve criticism. Just so happens that skin color, nationality, and religious affiliation don't qualify (but nations, political ideologies, and religions do).
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