Why global sanity needs Political Correctness more than ever

Fri 30 Jan 2015

Blog by Dr Julie Mills - Principal, Milton Keynes College.

So many words have been used to try to explain the horrors of the attacks in Paris in recent weeks and none has come close to fully describing the awful nature of those events.  It is almost beyond our capacity to put ourselves into the minds of the young men who felt such atrocity could be justified in terms of religious or political goals.  What we can say is that such violence has its root causes in a splintered society, where groups and individuals can believe, however, wrongly, that their actions are legitimate because the world affords them no other choices.

At Milton Keynes College we spend a lot of time using words like inclusion, equality and diversity.  In some people such language induces a heavy inward sigh or rolling of the eyes.  These are the same people who when faced with someone else’s observations or actions to combat inequality will describe it as, “political correctness gone mad.”  So what does this mean?  I’ve looked at a number of dictionary definitions and they all pretty much agree that political correctness means language or behaviour that deliberately tries to avoid offending particular groups of people.  So how does such language provoke strong reactions?

If we go back to the 1970s, anyone critical of TV hits like, “Love Thy Neighbour” or “The Black & White Minstrel Show” on the grounds that they were demeaning to black people would have been in the minority and probably laughed at as part of the “gone mad” brigade (if you’ve never see them, go to YouTube and prepare to be shocked).  In the eighties, mocking non-heterosexual people or those with disabilities was part of mainstream entertainment.  Why did political correctness focus on these things to make them unacceptable?  Simply because these attitudes exclude and marginalise.  Forcing people to be outside society benefits no one, and in the most extreme cases can lead to violent reaction. 

Language matters.  The vast majority of Muslims around the world are hurt and offended by the use of the words “jihad” and “Islamic,” by those who propagate hate.  In Islam, both are honourable words which are polluted when hijacked by criminal gangs.  In English some talk about dedicated, tireless people as “Crusaders.”  In the Middle East the word crusade is synonymous with invasion, brutality and cruelty.

Obviously, no amount of abuse of language and culture provides even the tiniest degree of excuse for criminal violence, be it in Syria or Paris or on our own streets.  The point is that if we are to stop people being turned from reasonable, compassionate and tolerant human beings into killers, we, as a society, have to have a strategy.  A big part of that strategy has to be making sure that everyone believes that they have a stake in society, that they have opportunity and are part of something bigger.  Otherwise, what do they have to lose by lashing out at it?

So I am quite unashamed in my pursuit of a politically correct college where we deliberately try to avoid offending and include particular groups of people.  I’m extremely proud of the fact that we are constantly looking at ourselves, at our policies and practices, and yes, our language, to see if we are being even-handed, inclusive and accepting of difference.  Nelson Mandela put it best when he said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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