Recently, a row was sparked off in the hills of Darjeeling, a north-eastern region of India, when a radio jockey of a Delhi-based FM radio station made a racist remark about the winner of Indian Idol (the Indian equivalent to American Idol), Prashant Tamang, who belongs to the Gurkha tribe, most of whom live in that part of India and Nepal. The Gurkhas felt outraged en masse by the remark because they are often the butt of stereotypical innuendos and jokes, like many other minority communities.
The point I am making is that 'political incorrectness' occurs everywhere, and most marginalized people, or minority people, the world over, are often at the receiving end of the insensitivities of mainstream societies.
Political correctness, or more popularly referred to as PC, is the attempt to use language, behavior, ideas, or policies in order to curtail offense caused to cultural, racial, or other groups that have distinctive identities. Political incorrectness, on the other hand, refers to ideas or language that is considered offensive.
Political correctness is a hotly debated topic, with a long history, and often elicits strong reactions from both its supporters and critics. While in the past it was associated more with refraining from endorsing racist and political positions, these days, it is more to do with softening or neutralizing language, especially concerning sexist terms or that which differentiates people negatively, so as not to cause offense to anyone. Hence, according to PC speak, the term 'Negro' has been replaced by 'African-American', 'mentally retarded' by 'intellectually challenged', 'Indian' by 'Native American', and instead of the outdated term 'policeman', people are encouraged to use the term 'policeperson'.
The underlying principle of what some consider goofy tampering of language, while others consider a completely logical way to restructure it to get rid of outworn terminology and reflect the age we live in, is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, according to which it is expostulated that language shapes thinking, or that conceptual categorization is determined by linguistic categorization. In other words, verbal expression does not merely communicate thought, but also determines it, to a certain extent.
So, the assumption is that, if people use language in non-sexist, non-racist, or non-discriminatory ways, their thinking will also change accordingly. This is one of the main reasons why some critics of PC denounce it as mind-control, akin to Orwellian Newspeak, a fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where it is described as 'the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year'. In the book, the language is imposed on people to control their thinking.
The critics of PC also say that it connotes censorship and hampers free speech by creating limitations on public discourse, especially in political forums and universities. Others opine that the terms used in politically correct language are clumsy, euphemistic replacements for the natural original language. Some others contend that PC creates an environment where people are accused of being prejudicial simply for questioning ideologies. The scenario becomes even more convoluted when people of groups that the ideas of political correctness seek to protect sometimes embrace the very terms that PC rejects. Many critics also bemoan its advent as a harbinger of the death of humor and parody.
While most of these criticisms have some truth in them, however, since we live in a globalized world, where not merely America, but the whole world is becoming a cultural melting pot consisting of multiple ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and so on, the ideas behind being politically correct will go a long way to help people learn to live with each other, and accept each others' differences without prejudices.
As for the complaint about the lack of humor in political correctness, surely it is high time we grew out of the inane type of so-called humor that gets tickled by stereotypical depictions of human beings because of their looks, race, gender, sexuality, color of skin, religion, ethnicity, weight, age, or whatever.
(As you may have noticed, I have used the 'politically correct' word 'inane' in the previous paragraph, where I could have used a harsher word.)