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Political correctness has become something of a taboo subject in the UK, with a general disdain towards the concept felt by most, coupled with the fear of being labelled a xenophobe, racist or misogynist. There seems to be an ever thinning line between what is acceptable and what isn’t.
The most recent example we have seen of the conversation around PC is during the #Brexit campaigns, where there were accusations thrown predominantly towards the Leave camp, rather stereotyping it’s members as brutish xenophobes. This has undeniably stemmed from the conversation around immigration, which regardless of which side you sit on is a debate with as much of a place in British Politics as anything else.
Of course, I appreciate that over the last 12 months we have seen a very concerning rise in “alt-right” movements and flagrant, unacceptable racism across the western world. This is something that I feel we need to address as a people, united. I do, however, worry that the unity required to defeat such a movement is unlikely to be found if we struggle to converse with people who have different opinions than us, or if we are afraid to discuss certain subjects with those from different backgrounds.
One of the periods I hold as a crucial moment within my, how to put this, “Leftist Awakening”, is when I worked at a popular chicken fast food chain and was immediately immersed in a mixture of Nepalese, Muslim, and Indian culture. My curiosity was bursting. I took every opportunity to engage with these people in an effort to understand them and I learned huge amounts in those 18 months that have smashed stereotypes that had formed in my mind during my childhood & teenage years.
When my next job put me sitting opposite a Muslim man of my age, who lived down the road from me, we very quickly formed a friendship at work. It was really then that I discovered just what the misunderstood concept of Political Correctness can do to get in the way of open, frank conversation. We would often be on breaks discussing various global events, during a time where the news was dominated by stories of Islamic Extremism. These conversations would often become fast-paced, debates about a variety of issues personal to both of us and with us both being in our very early 20’s we would turn to humour to overcome awkwardness and some of the darker points.
Some of the things we said to each other were incredibly un-PC. There were jokes thrown around of me stealing the oil from his car, or telling him to be careful about being seen with the checked tea-towel in the office kitchen. It was good humoured, honest banter between friends who were learning a lot from each other. There were times where we were warned by management about the way we talked to each other, and the consequences if we carried on.
The reason I feel that this discourse was so important, is that it was at a time when the media was telling us to hate. Right-Wing movements were on the rise and the chants of “Go Home” could be heard again on the streets. During this war of misinformation, I was able to form my own opinion through engagement with people themselves.
I worry that the fear of being considered politically incorrect is threatening the discourse between people who want to understand and people who want to be understood. One of the most apparent examples of this is the types of conversations taking place on social media, where people are willing to put their political beliefs in the public forum but have no time to discuss, only disdain for anyone who engages.
In these disconcerting times, I hope that we can strive to be more united than ever, that we can debate and discuss issues and make our own moral judgements on whether what we hear is right or wrong.