By Samson Chinonso Onwe
In Nigeria, the February 2023 Presidential election draws near each passing day, but this time it isn’t politics as usual. One can feel somewhat bizarre energy floating around in the air, like a dark cloud before a rainy day. The reality is no different, the politically naive church member risks criticism and expulsion from their place of worship. Party delegates are harassed and exposed to harm for voting for their preferred candidates. A Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Mbaka is boycotted for expressing his dissent over Peter Obi — toxic crusade and political correctness are the order of the day.
Political correctness — a term originally coined to describe the concept of using languages that seem intended to give the least amount or no offence at all when addressing people or groups identified by external markers such as tribe, gender, religion, culture, or sexual orientation, has, without a doubt, metamorphosed and assumed a more complex underpinning.
Linguistically, political correctness seems grounded in the desire to stop the marginalization of several groups based on the use of language, as it is believed that language reveals or enhances our bias and stereotypes, for instance, sexist language enhances sexism, in the same way, racist language promotes racism. Tremendous progress has been made on this front both for conscious and unconscious bias. In today’s world, instead of asking a person about their wife or husband, political correctness says we must ask about their partner, as the former would mean we already assumed their sexual orientation to be straight.
Opponents of political correctness have argued that it is a waste of time – it is impossible to please everyone. They claim that political correctness perceives offensive languages where there are none. They assert that such language control would lead to self-censorship and behaviour restrictions and that ultimately, political correctness is a threat to freedom of speech and expression. But proponents of political correctness beg to differ, according to them, the argument that it prevents free speech is flawed. They aver that freedom of speech accords an individual the right to say whatever they feel, but it also accords other people the right to point out if or when they find it offensive. According to the freedom of speech doesn’t mean one can’t be criticized, it just means they can’t be silenced. But the validity of the latter part of their claim would be tested when in America, President Donald Trump protested the results of the 2020 US presidential election, claiming it was rigged, He was permanently banned! A clear resounding proof that one can indeed be silenced.
In politics, the cherry-picking and sugarcoating that political correctness demands is nothing short of dangerous hypocrisy. On the 5th of June 2022, when over 40 people were killed in a mass shooting at a Catholic church in Owo, Ondo state, The presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar made a tweet condemning the killing of Christians, and then later deleted it. A move, many feel might be due to his fear of being politically incorrect, or his care to avoid offending his Muslim or Fulani supporters, by the criteria of political correctness, tender sensibilities and self-righteous indignation must be protected. What then would this mean for freedom of expression which is a cardinal feature of our democracy?
Political correctness interlocks considerably well, too, with Identity politics, which has plagued the Nigerian political scene for years. Identity politics involves the grouping of people – mainly minorities, by their victim status, be it sex, religion, or tribe. Behind identity, politics is the demand for good governance, equal rights, and fairness across the board, always with the notion that it doesn’t already exist, or that no progress has been made, so it is assumed that northerners stand relentlessly opposed to southerners, and Christians against Muslims, and so on. On top of that, political correctness makes it impossible, to tell the truth, or even honestly question many aspects of identity politics without being labelled as insensitive or detestable. Nor is one able to even suggest without being labelled misogynist, that men do some things better than women as women do some things better than men. Political correctness has made any form of conversation within these lines seemingly impossible.
In truth, political correctness has been used to champion and score considerable gains in issues of fairness, equality, representation, and so many others. But one of the problems of such activism is that it is without a benchmark. Perhaps, in its pipe dream hope for great flattening equality, it demands more, and then some more, ultimately dumbing down the criteria, and substituting merit, ability, and intellectual prowess for anything else, as long as it suits its purpose. We have seen this many times!
Assuming political correctness stopped at the request for civil behaviour, much of its numerous complexities would have been avoided. In its current form, it is toxic. Its practical explanation according to its proponents means complete equality for all, excluding those who violate political correctness underlying principles and obvious restrictions. This is what makes it problematic.
For the politician and socially significant, the role of political correctness has also been expanded, if in his present-day endeavours there is anything politically incorrect in his long-forgotten past, events are likely to conspire to make sure that it is uprooted and used against him as a career sinking tool. The ambitious must therefore be careful, with the political correctness police on constant surveillance, a loose lip could sink your ship.
What then can be done to avert this rabid phenomenon? Probably not much. In the end, one can only hope that political correctness will go so far as to make evident its comical absurdity. Until then, we wait and see.
*Samson Chinonso Onwe is a Nigerian writer, publisher and medical professional based in Oxford, United Kingdom.