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Speaking the language of PC

11/18/15 10:55am

On my resume, I wrote that I am proficient in three languages, including Chinese, Korean and English. However, I now feel the need to add one more: PC.

PC, or political correctness, generally refers to language and actions that attempt to recognize one’s privilege and therefore not offend marginalized groups in society. The term appeared first in the 1990s in the New York Times, and since then, it has been used to deprecate people who excessively scrutinize every word and its implications. Talking PC involves careful choice of vocabulary and maintaining a keen check on the speaker’s privilege.

As I have learned to talk PC over the course of my three years at Rice, I realized that “talking PC” is viewed as equivalent of speaking a different language, indicating a completely different set of vocabularies, connotations and tone. It has even become a descriptor of a person or an event. People often assume that the person who “talks PC” is uptight with every little joke and word use. For example, during Dis-Orientation, I overheard an advisor say jubilantly and freely, “I don't have to talk PC anymore!” implying that talking PC was a shackle that restricted her from being her true self.

I want us to stop and think for a moment. Is talking PC really about not saying certain words? Is it really about nitpicking the little things? In my opinion, talking PC stems from the same sentiment as Rice students changing their profile pictures to the French flag in light of the recent event at Paris, or posting a status in support of Mizzou students. I believe talking PC is representing oneself as an ally to the community that society systematically exploits. Talking PC is a gesture that demonstrates understanding of systematic oppression and thus supports communities fighting injustices, even if it is a small action like being cautious of one’s vocabulary.

George Herbert Mead, one of the classical sociologists, states in his theory of symbolic interactionism that an individual develops one’s self-identity through language, as language ascribes meaning to our actions. In other words, what we say shapes who we are. What we say is truly inherent to our identity. Talking PC is not just an act or a language a person performs and does — it is a representation of a belief inherent to the person, a belief that no community should be dehumanized and stripped of its rights.

Linda Heeyoung Park is a senior at Hanszen College, studying Sociology and Poverty, Justice, and Human Capabilities.

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