On Language and Political Correctness

Hoo boy! Is it this time again? Time to lose friends on the internet!

Let’s have some fun with metaphors. The problem with language is that it contorts to systems of power, like a sheet draped over an object, and for a very long time “we” in Western Civilization have been living on a massive, continent sized sheet and acting as though it were flat or in other words, objective. But the landscape of culture and language is not flat, it’s clearly sloped in favor of certain sexualities, classes, races, and nations (as us in /r/criticaltheory are keenly aware of). The fact that the landscape is sloped isn’t just a typically left issue either, it could just as easily apply to people who consider themselves right wing like the rural poor who are routinely called hillbillies for not being cosmopolitan enough, the landscape of culture is also sloped against them too. But what I have to emphasize about this is that with the power relations we have and the corresponding language we have, there’s no real way to speak courteously about cultural, sexual, class or any other type of disenfranchised differences without bringing up power differences. I want to get along with Black people, so if they tell me it’s horrifically taboo to use the N-word of course I won’t, but look up what’s synonymous to the word Black in the dictionary: evil, ignorance and sin. I can’t imagine anyone choosing to identify with the label “Black” and being 100% satisfied switching out overt racism with implied racism. The words that society has for people on the low end slope of the sheet are already insults. Just look up a euphemism for any unprivileged group and you’ll see the bread crumbs trail of disempowering language, history is inescapable.

Not saying that all struggles are the same, I’m just trying to demonstrate a point that anyone who’s different from the norm is automatically inferior in some way by our language.


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