In our age of widespread social unrest with simultaneously advanced mass communication, a demand has grown for media and people to use more inclusive, appropriate and sensitive language.
We’ve called this choice being “politically correct,” which is defined as: “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people” (Merriam-Webster, 2015).
Our society has never been effectively sympathetic to the experiences of minority populations, and our media clearly reflects that. Stereotypes, prejudices and the marginalization of underprivileged demographics have been so integrated into our culture and media that these harmful practices have become normalized (Trotta, 2013). This ultimately further oppresses targeted populations and contributes to institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, ableism and xenophobia. As more people are able to raise their voices through social media and mass communication channels, we’re now hearing more that people will no longer tolerate this for the harm it causes.
On the other hand, many challenge this notion by suggesting that those supporting political correctness are being too sensitive to the issues (Debate, 2016). Some claim that jokes and comments about certain populations are entertaining and are thus conducive to more comfortable social atmospheres. Being held consistently accountable for particularities about one’s rhetoric could potentially encourage senses of “fear” and “paranoia” in people (Srivastava, 2016). However, the unease of being conscientious of one’s language is marginal compared to the suffering minorities endure daily. The need for safety and recognition of oppressed groups trumps the need for colloquial conversation. It is also worth noting that this sense of comfort is subjective according to the speaker’s perspective. Someone who dislikes political correctness because they want to feel more comfortable speaking unfiltered may not recognize the daily discomfort others feel when slurs and insensitive jokes are thrown around against their identities.
Consequentially, public relations practitioners should be actively aware and respectful of the need for political correctness by diverse audiences. Our messages should be shaped to be inclusive for all, to not only the benefit of our society but also the organizations public relations practitioners represent. Being politically correct matters to a considerable amount of people, and thus should be validated and implemented in messages our publics receive. As representatives of organizations, the feelings and impressions we inspire in our audiences matter to our success as well. Organizations hold significant impact in the power of their words and messages due to their mass outreach.
Being considerate of the potential negative reactions publics could have is a major strategy a practitioner can take to improve relationships. This could furthermore improve an organization’s brand image by suggesting one is sensitive to the personal needs of its audiences. We have the ability to shape our conversations in the media, and so they should reflect the needs of all groups in our society.