- Caleb Walsh illustration
Let's talk about political correctness. It's defined by Merriam-Webster 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." But lots of people would say they're now considered dirty words among those who are from the majority culture. The "It's just political correctness" trope is used to minimize, deflect and ignore the needs and honor of a group of a marginalized people. In short, it's just adult bullying.
We ask our kids not to bully, which includes calling people names, social exclusion and physical violence, along with the ultimate form of minimization: "We were just joking." There's even a nationwide campaign to end bullying, because schools know that bullying and hostility breeds bad outcomes for our kids. Our children are sometimes even dying because of name calling, being socially ostracized, not being included in the social convergence of the school hallways.
The political correctness postulation is the adult version of the schoolyard bully's elementary "I was just joking" rationalization. Here's an example: let's say that there's a group of kids on the playground. They just learned about American history, including a little snippet about how there were bounties for the skins of murdered indigenous people, called redskins. Well, of course, at the first opportunity several classmates call their Native American classmate a "redskin," making the whole class laugh, because you know that's what kids do.
What's so different about this example from a National Football League team and schools across this nation using words like Redskins, Savages, and Squaws as nicknames and mascots? In the playground situation, we would tell the children that it's not OK to say things that others find hurtful, inappropriate, mean or racist. We would educate them on why it's not OK to use a derogatory term like "redskin" under any circumstances, because it's morally wrong and against our values.
But for some reason, a lot of people think it's morally acceptable to call a football team by a word that most Native Americans find offensive and hurtful. Some proponents claim that many Native Americans like the mascots. The opposite is true; the majority of Native people in America do not believe the name "Washington Redskins" honors them or their ancestry.
As a very talented, intelligent adjunct professor at Whitworth University recently said: Words lead to beliefs that lead to actions. That's why we want our children to understand that words hurt and bullying is not OK. We know that if we don't teach our children ethical and moral boundaries related to how we treat others, they likely will grow up saying and doing things that would be morally reprehensible and harmful to our greater societal good. They might even end up being the people who claim that groups of people demanding respect and honor in an authentic, genuine way are just being weak, because political correctness is for wussies.
Every time someone says, "That's just political correctness," a social justice unicorn dies. No, really: Ask any member of a marginalized group, and they can relate stories of when they have been told that to keep them quiet, to keep them from changing the conversation to authentic dialogue about the inequities in this world. Let's start an adult anti-bullying campaign to end Native American mascots, name calling, blackfacing and other bullying behaviors. That would save the social justice unicorns, and it might create a space where authentic and courageous conversations can happen in our community and nation. ♦
Tara Dowd, an enrolled Inupiaq Eskimo, was born into poverty and now owns a diversity consulting business. She is an advocate for systemic equity and sees justice as a force that makes communities better.