PC vs. CC: Cultural Competence is the new Political Correctness

Lately, there have been many complaints about political correctness. Supposedly, America is becoming too sensitive and needs to get over it.I agree, but I also don’t. I agree that political correctness needs to end, but that cultural competence should instead replace it.

What does political correctness even mean? It originated in Communist Russia to literally mean correct by the party lines. It became used ironically in the 1960s with leftists, but in the 1990s, people started attacking political correctness. Political correctness was a blanket term  for affirmative action, sanctioning hate speech, and revising curricula. The government never actually ordered for anyone to be politically correct, but conservatives worried that it was destroying free speech and thought.

Clearly, free speech and thought are very important and part of what makes America great, but there is a difference between freedom of speech and objectifying other cultures because of your lack of articulate vocabulary. It’s not the words, but the thoughts behind it. 

Referring to someone as Native American instead of an Indian is not politically correct, it’s geographically and culturally correct. Native Americans are not from India, nor have they ever claimed to be. Why should our (presumably white people’s) freedom of speech be able to limit others’ freedom of identity?

When people say that’s retarded, do they really mean that’s mentally or intellectually disabled? Or do they mean it’s lame or dumb? If someone is mentally disabled, are they autistic or do they have Down’s Syndrome? There are so many words in the English language. By not fully using proper, specific words, you are in fact limiting your own freedom of speech.

Enough of the technicalities though. Basically, people don’t want to offend anyone. Still, inclusive language doesn’t have to violate your freedom of speech. What is cultural competence and how is it better?

Cultural competence is being able to function properly in cross-cultural situations by valuing diversity and being aware of your own and others’ identities with cultural knowledge. The more people know about other cultures and the differences between others’ and their own, the more inclusive society can be to appreciate other cultures. By being inclusive, you are expanding your own knowledge to better understand others and ultimately create the world a better place (hopefully).

To become more culturally competent, you must first learn about yourself. I’m not trying to get all meta and tell you to go find yourself, but you have to reflect on your own identity before you can expect to communicate and function well with others. Recognizing your own identities, whether they are racial, sexual, cultural, ethnic, spiritual, emotional, or physical, is important and helps you better understand why you are who you are. Some identities will stay with you for life, but others will change, just like your age. Some identities can be privileges and some can be disadvantages, and they can all differ depending on perspective. Again, it’s all about self-awareness.

You also must learn about other cultures. This is sometimes the hardest part because it is easy to compartmentalize others for the sake of simplifying our selfish understanding. This is the root of stereotypes. While inevitable, these can be changed over time. Educating yourself on all of the diversity in the world is not only interesting but extremely useful. Whatever your profession, you will likely interact with people from other cultures, and learning about such cultures can improve your relations with them.

Not everyone should be treated the same, so using political correctness as a means of blanket statements to simplify your own understanding is outdated. Why be safe when you can just be specific? There are one million words in the English language – be creative! That’s so _______ (ridiculous, naive, frivolous, irrational, interesting, curious, eccentric, bogus, weak, foolish, goofy, absurd, annoying, wacky, strange, bizarre, odd).

Regardless of whether or not you’re being PC or CC, please don’t be an asshole. While assholes are inevitably going to troll the world, please don’t be one of those people. Nobody likes an asshole, even if they’re politically correct.

How do you struggle most with cultural competence or political correctness in your life?

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