A recent post that appeared on the cover of Open Salon, "What's Wrong with Political Correctness?," makes the case that many American are impolite for calling people "blacks" instead of "African-Americans." The core of the author's argument is a 2007 Gallup poll:
According to a 2007 Gallup poll, people of color with a preference would rather be called African-Americans by an almost two-to-one margin. So why do so many whites insist on saying blacks?
The author concludes that it is a simple matter of politeness and manners to use"African-American," and thus implies that to use "black" constitutes a failure to show good manners. In that context the author sees "political correctness" as nothing more than showing good manners, not as something to be ridiculed or rejected.
In fact, this post is a great example of what is wrong with political correctness. It's political, but it's not correct.
In order to see why we need to go back to the original poll results, that, for the resder's convenience, I will list here:
Note the author's interesting locution: people of color with a preference...
In other words, he's only talking about the first two columns. If we look at all the results from 2007 a very different picture emerges: 61 percent of blacks don't care, and an additional 1 percent had no opinion.
Stated differently, 76 percent of blacks either preferred "blacks," or didn't care.
Now, let's return to the author's original question: So why do so many whites insist on saying blacks?
Why? Because more than three-quarters of blacks either don't care or prefer "blacks."
For additional guidance on this issue, we can look to Obama's speech "A More Perfect Union," surely one of the most eloquent statements about race and America so far in this century. We find the following word counts:
"Black" -- 39 instances "African-American" -- 9 instances
Eighty-one percent of the time, in an important prepared speech, Obama uses "black."
The post in question illustrates one problem with political correctness: it claims to speak for certain groups of people, while in fact often speaking for a relatively small minority of them.
For example, feminists often advocate various politically correct ideas in the name of "women," while in fact many of the women for whom they claim to speak do not support those ideas.
Political correctness tends to be the domain of left-leaning, university-educated people, many of whom do not have much in common with those in whose interests they claim to act. The main enclaves of political correctness are the university, and to a lesser extent, the workplace. This is because these are the only two places where people can actually be intimidated by threat of punishment into acting and speaking in accordance with politically-correct principles. In other venues, political correctness is enforced through verbal conditioning, a process in which people are made to feel guilty about things that they say or write through public shaming.
The unfortunate thing is that some of what is called "political correctness" really is about politeness and manners. But it's heavy-handed methods and sometimes extreme ideas tend to be distasteful to many people, causing them to throw out the baby with the bathwater.