The expression “politically correct” came about in the 1970′s and was intended to mean “inclusive.” It referred to the use of language that would not cause an individual of any demographic (social or cultural) group to feel excluded, offended, or diminished..
It now seems to have been redefined by those who prefer an exclusive culture and dominance for themselves or their group. The distortions were made popular by comedians who observed the change in U.S. culture toward more inclusiveness and the struggle many people had in breaking exclusionary habits.
- Be careful when addressing groups or talking about others. Use language that would not make any person feel excluded, diminished, or devalued.
- Avoid language that addresses only one demographic group unless it is intended for that group only, such as using “men” when you mean “all people”. Accurate descriptions are the essence of ‘political correctness’.
- Avoid titles that are exclusionary, such as “Chairman” (use “Chairperson”); “Fireman” (use Firefighter); and “Stewardess” (use “Flight Attendant”). The use of titles that exclude persons of a different gender or other social groups is usually acceptable when addressing an individual, as in a business setting, where Mr. Smith is the CEO, and you are introducing him as “Mr. Smith, our Chairman of the Board”.
- Avoid expressions that are derogatory with regard to physical or mental abilities, such as “handicapped” or “retarded”. Instead, use first person language, such as “person with a disability” or “person with Down’s Syndrome”. People have disabilities, they are not defined by them. In many cases, simply addressing the person who has mental, physical, or other challenges in the same terms as you would address anyone else is the ideal solution.
- Avoid overly-cautious racial descriptions that can be offensive. For example, say “African American” only when talking about Americans who are the decendents of African Slaves. Other Africans know what country they’re from ex: A person from Egypt is Egyptian American. In the case that you are unsure of a person’s citizenship, “black” and “white” are acceptable terms.
- Avoid the use of religious terms when speaking to a group that may include people who belong to different religions (ex., saying “God Bless” at a local event). The exception here is in the context of describing either academically or referentially specific characteristics of such a group, as in “Evangelical Christians hold certain beliefs…”, or “Jewish people commonly recognize Yom Kippur…”.
- Be sensitive to the inferences people may read in to the words you choose. Many common expressions have roots in a less inclusive social climate, and only time and education can completely eliminate them (ex., if you are asking if a girl is taken, asking “Do you have a boyfriend?” would be politically incorrect, as it makes them exclusively heterosexual. Instead ask, “Are you seeing/dating anyone?”). By the same token, each cultural group has equal protection from offensive generalizations and slurs, not just a certain ethnic group or gender.
- Respect every individual’s right to choose the language and words that best describe their race, class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. Don’t get defensive if someone rejects language which dis-empowers, marginalizes, confines, or diminishes them. The ability to name is a daunting power; individuals should play a role in selecting words to describe themselves.
- When speaking and writing, your audience is likely to include people of differences; if you want to be taken seriously, use language that includes all of them and does not offend any subgroup.
- Consult a writing guide to learn appropriate terms of inclusive language for people, such as the “Publication Guide of the American Psychological Association.” Look up “bias in language.”
- Using exclusive language can be unlawful in some settings, such as the workplace, and can lead to undesirable consequences, such as termination.
- Your reputation can be damaged by the use of exclusive language, thereby causing you to be considered untrustworthy of holding a leadership position in social, business or political organizations.
- In modern era, “politically correct” does not mean you should not offend anyone; it means no one will be able to accuse you of having said anything wrong.
- Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’ve said anything wrong at all, so its probably best to take the following saying to heart: Some things are better left unsaid.
- Don’t over-do it. Just because someone uses “exclusionary” language, doesn’t mean that they harbor ill feelings for the excluded group,and in many ways, running around accusing others of harboring prejudices will reflect negatively upon you, and ultimately fuel resistance to political correctness.
- Don’t be pedantic. Don’t hold a massive, 30-minute-long argument over which of two terms is the politically correct term, and which is the hateful one.