PC: Political Correctness or Plain Courtesy?

Yesterday I found myself in an interesting discussion about 'political correctness.'

Someone suggested that authors must feel frustrated or resentful at having their imaginations constrained by anxiety about offending others (I'm paraphrasing). Do we dare, as non-indigenous authors, to write from the point of view of an Aboriginal character? Is it okay to pick out pieces of another culture's mythology (whether that be Maori, Persian, Irish, Ethiopian or whatever) and insert it into our own narratives? Shouldn't we be able to write whatever the hell we like?

I have to say I have a real problem with the phrase 'politically correct.' It's always used as an insult, denoting a timid, yet repressive regime that tiptoes around the perceived sensitivities of others. And it's generally implied that such sensitivity is unwarranted.

Setting aside the latter point, why not simply replace the term 'politically correct' with 'respectful'? Personally, I don't feel comfortable writing from the point of view of an indigenous character, because I recognise that I don't know enough about what it's like to live as an indigenous person. But that's not the same as saying that I won't put indigenous characters into my books. I don't feel confident to write from the point of view of a sixty year old white man, either (luckily there are plenty of sixty year old white male authors to take up the slack on that one).

If I write historical fiction, I want to get the details right, and I think I owe it to the readers to do so. As a reader, I'm irritated by sloppy research or dialogue that doesn't ring true. Equally, if I'm going to draw on a culture that is not the culture I've grown up in, I need to get it as right as I possibly can, or readers who know better than I will be annoyed and offended, and rightly so. Maybe I'm wrong, but it doesn't seem like that big a deal. It seems like respectful common sense, and simple courtesy.

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