Once More: Please Understand what “Political Correctness” is!

Politically-Correct

In all the discussion over the change of the Washington football team’s name, there seems to be one erroneous path of logic for those upset about a possible name change: “it’s all about political correctness!” Guess what… this has nothing to do with “Political Correctness”, and just like the terms “Liberal”, “Socialist”, and “Communist”, I suggest you understand what you’re saying before you try and use the words in a counterargument.

Politically correct is defined as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people” and “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.” In layman’s terms, it means thinking about what you’re saying or doing because (regardless of intent) it might be construed offensively. Some people call it “critical thinking” or “common sense”…

Political correctness is what gave us debates over labels regarding minorities, the disabled, or the elderly. “African Americans” versus “Blacks”, “Native Americans” versus “American Indians”, “Disabled” versus “Handicapped”, etc. The reason these debates on PC are so divisive is that even the people being labeled have different opinions on what they want (if anything). Worse, these debates are often started by people who don’t even belong to the groups being labeled, bringing to question who is offended and why? Regardless, PC debates are basically about determining if a seemingly inoffensive term or action is, in fact, offensive and should be used.

The term “Redskins” is not about PC because there is no debate on whether it is offensive or not. It is offensive. It is labeled in multiple dictionaries as offensive slang, derogatory, and a racial slur. It was created as a slur, was continually used as a derogatory term, and is still found offensive by the very people it labels. There is no debate on whether this term is innocuous, as even half of the people who want to keep the name admit it is an inappropriate label. Therefore, this has nothing to do with the political correctness of the term, as the majority of ~everybody~ agrees it is not.

The debate over the use of American Indian imagery in sports is about PC. Feel free to argue over whether teams like the Indians or the Braves are being offensive or not.

The debate over the term “Redskins” is not about PC. It’s about the continued use of a racial slur, that the majority agrees is a racial slur, and that has no place in an intelligent, educated, and intercultural society.

Redskins – Political Correctness or Cultural Sensitivity?

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The debate continues over the name of the Washington Redskins football team. By now most know the basic stances of both sides:

  • On the one hand, you have a team that has used that name since the 1930s. Claims are it was never meant in a derogatory fashion but instead to encourage a sense of pride, strength, and warrior spirit. To change it would cost millions in re-franchising and close the chapter on almost a century of sports history.
  • On the other hand, you have a team using a name that was wildly used as a pejorative throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Regardless of the frequency of use today or its archaic nature, the term is offensive and is inconsiderate to a large population of people. To not change it would be to turn a blind eye to the feelings of others and to support a precedent toward apathy in an already divisive society.

One recent suggestion was that to change the name was simply trying to be “politically correct” for the sake of being such. The name is not the source of any discriminatory acts against Native Americans, who are likely unaffected by some football team on the East Coast. I disagree with this assertion and so do over 250 distinct nations represented by the National Congress of American Indians.

“Political Correctness” would be about whether someone is called “American Indian” versus “Native American”, or if it’s OK to use any Native American iconography. Instead, this is about the insensitive use of a term that even the apathetic agree is a racial slur; 56% of those in favor of keeping the name still agreed it was an “inappropriate way to describe a Native American Indian.” Although archaic and not holding the same strength it once did, “Redskins” is no more acceptable than the terms “Coolie” or “Spearchucker”. Such a word has no place in common parlance, no matter what the current connotation or usage.

To understand different ways to use words, let’s look at semantics, political correctness, and cultural insensitivity:

  • Semantics is all about intent versus literal meaning. This has nothing to do with offense, it’s simply arguing about the literal nature of words, like whether the word “gay” only means “happy” or that an “electric eel” is not an “eel”. Claiming a naturalized citizen from Africa is the only true “African-American” is semantics, because we know what the intent of the word was regardless of its literal definition.
  • Political correctness is the claim that a given meaning is offensive, regardless of its prior unoffensive usage. This may be done because of new information, like the fact that “Eskimo” turned out to be a pejorative by the original French settlers, leading to the use of the term “Inuit”. Claiming that “Black” is offensive where as “African-American” is not, despite its widespread, non-pejorative use (even among that population) is being politically correct.
  • Cultural insensitivity is the use of a term that is (or was) a pejorative, regardless of its current status or the target population’s feelings on the matter. Claiming you were “gypped” is insensitive because it originated as an accusation against the supposed thievery by the Roma or “gypsies” (a politically incorrect term). Using a term like “Spearchucker” in conjunction with anything related to African-Americans (toys, media, organizations, etc.), while claiming nothing ill is meant and its done in honor of them, is being culturally insensitive. (Not to mention stupid.)

Regardless of what one believes, the term Redskins is neither semantics or politically incorrect; it is an offensive term applied to a people who still find it insulting. Changing it is not because of political correctness but an attempt to to change the system of modern racism and individual discrimination; to do this we need to recognize when words or acts are inappropriate and remove them from everyday society. Although some of us are smart enough to understand common sense, recognize our own bias, and avoid such behavior, we must accept that much of the population lacks that critical thought and education. So, to teach younger generations cultural sensitivity we have to start with basics… such as accepting that this team’s name is inappropriate, offends a significant portion of the population it refers to, and has no place in a diverse, intercultural society.