…but not because of what you think.
In our endless election cycle, the one that seems increasingly like a joke, every GOP candidate keeps talking about how this country has lost it’s way, it’s greatness, because of being “politically correct.” In their understanding, speech has to be limited because somebody might be offended, and that’s NOT FAIR, damn it.
The first amendment is my personal favorite. You remember the first amendment, that lovely little section cementing our right to free speech under the law? To hear politicians talk, you would think they’re risking jail time for expressing their (often heinously offensive) opinions at the top of their lungs.
College campuses are now on the front lines; articles keep appearing to lament the coddled state of college students, or the idea of adding “trigger warnings” to some material. Which, as you might have guessed, is ridiculous hyperbole.
Trigger warnings do not stop material from being taught and discussed. They simply function as a warning (hence the name) for those people who might have traumatic history. Some blogs and sites include content warnings before every single piece, just to make readers aware of what they can encounter, and choose to engage or not engage with that material.
Protests and accusations of “being politically correct” generally come after traditionally marginalized groups (i.e. women, people of color, poor folks, LGBTQI folks, etc) feel safe speaking up and mentioning how something isn’t really respectful toward them.
These people are using the principle set forward in the first amendment and by decades of case law – the solution for speech we don’t agree with isn’t a ban, but more speech. College is frequently the first open space for students, and marginalized students, to try out advocating for themselves, to engage in intellectual debates. If the best way to learn is to argue and try to explain your thoughts to others, who are we to step in and say someone shouldn’t be offended?
Fareed Zakaria recently wrote the following:
The solution to this tension is surely open discussion in which everyone can participate. And yet, the prevailing ethos seems to be that if one feels hurt or offended that is the end of the discussion. You cannot understand another’s experience or arguments. But a liberal education is premised on precisely the opposite idea, one that requires not safe spaces to retreat to but a common space to engage in.
Offense is a starting point for learning and discussion – we’re not stopping because of offense, but it IS on us to step back and listen. If someone is telling us something is offensive, there is an obligation to hear and understand why, whether or not we agree. Listening comes FIRST, before we decide if we agree!
The people most concerned about political correctness, at least in my small and non-objective sampling of articles, seem to be those whose status is challenged by change. Ten points if you can guess what group would be threatened by marginalized groups gaining respect.
Discussion of equality is not a zero sum game – black people getting more rights does not mean white people lose rights; women gaining equality does not mean men losing status; LGBTQI folks being treated with dignity does not equal straight, cis folks being treated like garbage…but it seems like this is the underlying fear.
The term itself is bullshit. Politically correct was coined in the 1980s by George H.W. Bush to dismiss his critics, and that’s still how it’s used. When someone speaks up, and we don’t agree (or its a point we haven’t yet considered, or about a group we don’t have much contact with) we tend to sneer “stop being so politically correct, please, just give it a rest” conveniently ducking our own responsibility for learning and being a good ally.
Drawing a boundary and speaking up is not being coddled. It’s not politically correct. It’s asking for consideration. It’s self-care. It’s advocacy.
And really, what’s so bad about wanting to be respectful of others’ experiences, anyway?