A new exhibit by the Living History Forum has sparked a debate around the term "politically correct". Here, artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin is pictured with a model of one of her pieces in the exhibit. Photo: Juliana Wiklund

Is "politically correct" a bad word?

"It's only used nowadays among . . . racists and populists and immigration critics"
6:10 min

Lately, the term "politically correct" has come under fire in Sweden. A debate around an exhibit at the Living History Forum in Stockholm has brought the problems with the phrase into focus.

"PC: An exhibit about intolerance" uses artistic works, like video and installation art, as a springboard to get young people to discuss the conditions for creating tolerance, and also to teach them how to be aware of their own prejudices.

As a governmental agency, the Forum has been remarkably critical about attitudes that Sweden's own citizens have had over the years towards people who are "different." But this time, the exhibit addresses current attitudes without the veil of the past.

Last year, the Forum surveyed secondary school students about their attitudes towards different groups: Muslims, Jews, Roma, homosexuals and immigrants from outside Europe and published the results in a report called "The Many Faces of Intolerance."

Education officer with the Forum, Åsa Thunström, explains that while, in general, these 15 to 18-year-olds were accepting of these groups, the attitudes could be better, and that was one of the reasons for making this exhibit.

"Most young people are quite tolerant. That's very interesting to . . . I mean we have to say that first, because otherwise it's not right," she tells Radio Sweden, "but there are attitudes towards these groups showing that, for example, anti-semitism and islamophobia . . . is a problem, and also against the Roma people. It still exists and it is an issue."

But the name of the exhibit, with its reference to "PC", or politically correct, has gotten some criticism.

"I think that is a mistake from the exhibition makers," says Lars Linder, a staff writer for the cultural section of newspaper Dagens Nyheter, "It's too long of a distance between the term political correctness as it has been used and the more broad notion of tolerance or intolerance."

Linder believes the far right has highjacked the term "politically correct" to brush aside legitimate concerns about equality. He says that extremists try to use the phrase to label and kill debate about anything that falls outside their point of view.

Political correctness, or at least what it was invented to stand for: equality for all, is still an important part of what it means to be Swedish. In one recent political debate, two of the parties actually bowed out because they did not want to be standing next to the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats. On the other hand, one of Sweden's most popular websites until it was taken down towards the end of October was a forum for the far right to vent and was called Politically Incorrect.

Linder believes the term "PC" should be gotten rid of, while Åsa Thunström from the Forum for Living History, feels there could still be a way to reclaim it through discussion.

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