The phrase "political correctness" gets tossed around a lot—a LOT. It's become so prevalent that, at this point, I'm hoping it will become politically incorrect to talk about being politically incorrect. But what IS political correctness? Ask anyone on the street and they may say it refers to the idea that we should all censor ourselves against saying anything offensive. But, then I ask, when did become a BAD thing to avoid offending people?
The notion of political correctness did, indeed, begin as the avoidance of offending groups of people. However, over time, its definition has been corrupted and twisted by various politicians (on both sides of the aisle).
At its formation, the phrase "politically correct" referred to the practice of phrasing one's words in such a way that could not be misconstrued to cause offense to certain listeners. It meant that we should choose our words carefully so that our intent and meaning was conveyed clearly. Basically, it was a modern rendition on the quasi-proverbial phrase "think before you speak."
In researching the issue on the internet, author Toni Morrison opined that "the political correctness debate is really about [the] power to be able to define. The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them." The outgroup persistently struggles to define itself and seeks recognition my the ingroup. The ingroup, on the other hand, persistently seeks to place a definition upon the outgroup against its consent. It is a tug-of-war between the definer and the defined, the powerful and the disenfranchised.
The disenfranchised call out: "We seek recognition as X, please honor that wish." The powerful respond: "We refuse to be stifled and will do as we please!"
As with most things, political correctness is about power and we've seen it happen before. An emerging social group—African-Americans, women suffragettes, LGBT+ persons, and now Muslim-Americans—seeks to change the status quo and the "ingroup" feels threatened. Usually, the disenfranchised group simply seeks to enforce their Equal Protection rights afforded by the Constitution.
At the end of the day, the issue of political correctness can be distilled into the tension between the rights of Equal Protection and Freedom of Speech. But, this tension is unnecessary. Political correctness, in it's untainted form, simply asks that speech be crafted carefully and with respect to all listeners.
We must correct the misconception that the refusal to be politically correct is justification to be wantonly reckless with one's words. And we must stop glorifying those who brandish incendiary speech under the guise of being anti-politically correct. There is no substance beneath that disguise, only fear and hate.