If you are reading this then I suspect that you are, like me, a human being (or a very clever cuttlefish, in which case, swim on little cephalopod, this article probably won’t interest you). It doesn’t matter the colour of your skin or eyes or hair, where you come from, or what religious or cultural practices you follow, humans all belong to the same species.
Why, then, do we continue to use the word “race”, and all its noun forms when describing social or political issues between blacks and whites? Humans are not a race; we are a species. Using the word “race” divides us, promotes the fallacy that humans fall into different species categories, which we do not, and gives rise to so many acts of hatred. I’m a white woman, with sort of beigey-pink skin, so I admittedly have different physical characteristics than other ethnic groups. But then again, I have different physical characteristics than other whites, and men for that matter.
If you want to get scientifically pedantic—spoiler alert! I’m going there!—our species is Homo sapiens sapiens; the extra “sapiens” marks us as different from our ancient ancestor, Homo sapiens idaltu. We are not raccoons or centipedes or whales. A black woman and a white man can produce a child unlike, say, a raccoon and a centipede. If you want to be a racist—if you want to feel superior to another species—then you’ll have to choose some other group of animals, like dogs or cats or manatees.
Am I being politically correct? Darned tooting I am.
Twenty-odd years ago I wrote a paper for a university philosophy course in which I argued that John Stuart Mill, the 19th century philosopher, economist and feminist, would have agreed with the idea of political correctness. In his work, On Liberty, Mill argued that to make people behave better within society, we must adopt self-restraint. Only then, can we find truth and fully develop our individual selves.
That was my jumping off point. I argued that political correctness isn’t about keeping your trap shut, it’s about respect for other people. It’s about not using certain words or phrases that serve only to insult or degrade others. It’s about self-restraint. If your name is Joe you would probably get pissed off if people always called you Frank. If your best friend calls her spouse her “partner”, respect that and don’t introduce her partner at parties as her “wife” or “husband”.
If you have no respect for anyone, then political correctness really is a piece of duct tape over your mouth. Poor baby; you can’t say whatever disgusting thing you want to whomever you choose. Why is that a bad thing?
In the early 1990s when I got my first email address and began surfing the Web, I was told by a very wise man that I should never write anything online that I wouldn’t be happy shouting across a crowded room. I follow that advice to this day and I am proud to say that there is nothing I have published online that I am ashamed of or wish I hadn’t written.
Being politically correct is about recognizing the damage that words can do and have done to the way we communicate with each other. It’s far too easy to dismiss a person of a different culture or ethnicity by calling them names. It’s far more difficult to try and understand another’s point of view, and practically impossible for some to think that we all belong to the same species.
I will very happily be labelled as politically correct. It means I have self-control and, to me, that’s a compliment.