Today, a ghost haunts our daily lives, the ghost of political correctness.
Although it is not clear what this “correction” consists of, there is a general consensus that we must practice it. The intention behind this practice is apparently laudable: to highlight situations of exclusion, xenophobia, violence and blatant injustice as a first step towards their eradication. But are things effectively resolved by a change in designation? What does political correctness represent? Is it a real attempt to transform injustices?
I ask these questions in a context in which the Football Association of England imposed a sanction on the Uruguayan Edinson Cavani (suspension from three matches and a fine of 100,000 pounds), after he published a message that said: “Gracias, Negrito”, in a publication on Instagram.
With those words, the 33-year-old striker wanted to thank a friend who congratulated him for scoring the winning goal against Southampton that day.
The popular reaction was to some extent consistent, angrily rejecting this sanction which shows a poverty of cultural and linguistic knowledge of the Latin American context, much less the context in which the message was written.
To be able to insult in Spanish, in English or in any other language, one must have the ability to offend the other, to provoke them, to irritate them with the words used, which did not happen with the recipient of the message.
I myself am called “negro” for affection, what’s more, a friend calls me “negro feo”, she does it very sweetly and does not offend me. But I have also been called black in a discriminatory tone or context and of course I have been upset. I find no disagreement in being insulted when I am called black in a pejorative way.
What is a bit of a hair pull, not only in the case of the Football Association (FA) in England, is that defense at all costs of “political correctness”, often falling into unfair accusations that show ignorance and error in relation to the use of language, without taking note of all its complexities and its contexts.
From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Politically correct behaviour — which was born in the 1980s as an initiative to increase respect for minorities — has long been misplaced by radicalism, becoming a tyrannical movement that borders on the absurd and gives rise to derision. If we look at the use of language at least, the list of outlawed terms grows, as does the list of those that are enthroned to replace them, often true spies of the past. Pushed by this tendency, we cannot say “blacks” but “Afro-Ecuadorians”; we must always make explicit reference to gender and never forget to say “welcome” or use that jargon of “the children”. In that line, do not say “disabled” but “people with special abilities”, say “homosexuals” and never “faggots”; use “third age” instead of “old”, refer to the blind as “blind” and avoid the word “fat” by replacing it with “person with feeding problems”. Similarly, it is politically correct to speak of “native peoples” instead of “Indians”, or “sex workers” instead of “prostitutes”. Not to mention calling them “whores”, as this constitutes a sacrilege. And we should never say “maid”, it should be replaced by “paid domestic worker”. The fear of behaving or using language with discriminatory connotations has led us to be so condescending that sometimes what we do is accentuate the differences. As one scholar of the phenomenon says, in order to correct so much, we have fallen into the “impersonal and disinfected”, which lacks the strength to value and the ability to differentiate.
Political correctness has colonised everything, although in some places it is more abundant than in others. This invasion of political correctness ends up creating a new Manichaeism where what is right (as always: difficult to define, and of course on my side) is in accordance with what is good, and what is politically incorrect (held, of course, by others) represents evil. In that sense, political correctness is a form of censorship towards less organised groups (the majority), an attempt to suppress any opposition.
Although political correctness can be a first step in highlighting certain problems, we must be careful not to fall into a cosmetic exercise, because language or so much correction does not create realities: these are reflected in language and behaviour. There will not be more women scientists no matter how much we insist on repeating “scientists and scientists”, although if there were more women than men in that field it would be as common to hear scientists as nurses. The abuse of politically correct behaviour and language clashes with popular fear of the effects of globalisation, mistrust of immigrants, poor working conditions, etc. This raises a key issue: whether what we call “political correctness” coincides with or departs from the daily experience of ordinary people.
If we want to avoid discrimination, violence and xenophobia, instead of insisting, for example, on politically correct behaviour and language, we must start by seeing and making visible why there is discrimination, violence, injustice and xenophobia; and what actions must be taken to end them. The use, or if you prefer: the abuse, of politically correct behaviour can remind us of the saying: “from the sublime to the ridiculous there is only one step”.