Think of the tearoom bigot who, once upon a time, could voice old-fashioned sexism or racism without challenge. These days, he (schooled by Andrew Bolt and the like) moans about political correctness when, for the first time, a workmate answers back. In that scenario, he’s objecting to someone else exercising a privilege that previously he’d monopolised. He’s complaining, in other words, about freedom rather than censorship: upset that someone who’d once mutely endured bullying now feels able to say, ‘Actually, I don’t like it when you call me that name.’

While it might be uncomfortable to be thus challenged, it’s scarcely censorship. It’s still not censorship if the one-time bully thereafter feels constrained about voicing certain opinions because he realises other will think less of him if he does.


A huge proportion of the examples of what the right-wing culture warriors call political correctness fall into this category. It’s not censorship when readers disagree with a newspaper columnist, even if they call her a bigot while doing so. It’s not censorship when students mount a petition objecting to a visiting lecturer. It’s not censorship when activists rally against a far right group.

These are, on the contrary, textbook examples of free speech – and yet they’re routinely trotted out as evidence of left-wing PC censoriousness.

Jeff Sparrow on political correctness.