I’ll admit that I’m the kind of person who will literally cringe when someone uses the word “oriental” in a non-instant-ramen-flavor context or when someone scoffs at the concept of preferred pronouns. People from across the political spectrum refuse to adapt to changing conversations, either because they think that it stifles their freedom of speech or because it somehow won’t “solve the problems.” “Why don’t all of us mollycoddling, perpetually offended wannabe activists just worry about the real problems?” they say. The “real problems,” which are not white supremacy, patriarchy, islamophobia, transphobia, sexism or ableism, of course. The fact that Nick Adams, conservative and author of “Retaking America: Crushing Political Correctness” and Bailey Lamon, a self-proclaimed radical leftist with a Twitter presence, are gaining support for their opinions makes me furious but also deeply concerned about the future of American civil society.
It’s not surprising, though, that their flawed criticisms have gained popularity. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that 79 percent of American adults think political correctness is a serious problem in the United States, with 58 percent believing that the country has become too politically correct, which makes me first smirk and then tug at my hair in frustration. To those of you who form this overwhelming majority of people who think that “PC Culture,” as it is pejoratively called, is a problem. Here is a brief, impassioned and desperate argument by your overeager PC Policewoman from the regressive left.
For starters, Lamon’s claim that abuse survivors or homeless people “do not frame their worldviews in terms of academic theories (like white supremacy)” and so all activists who do allegedly analyze their problems in this context are “pretentious jerks” is an argument so sparse that I almost don’t want to address it. I agree that it is problematic if we don’t actually hear from the affected population or if the discourse is entirely restricted to Ivory Towers or elite media outlets. But that is not what she’s getting at here. Terms like “patriarchy” and “heteronormativity,” which she cites as symptoms of this incurable pretentiousness, are not restricted to purely academic conversations. These terms, statistically, have been increasing in popularity on social media outlets used by regular (whatever that means) people. It is unfortunate that a lot of affected people don’t have the education to refer to these concepts in these many syllables, but that doesn’t mean in any way that they don’t feel their effects.
Calling out “white supremacy” or “heteronormativity” does not make the people doing it vain or pretentious. It represents an attempt to acknowledge and delegitimize a malignant idea that has historically affected too many people. Her argument that “(the marginalized) do not bother with policing their language…They are more concerned with their voices being heard in the first place” is both circular and deeply flawed. When terms like “white supremacy” enter popular speak, they actually provide the context to explain years of mass incarcerations and racial profiling. They create an audience that wants to listen and listen carefully.
Now, onto the subject of the “Politically Correct Mafia” who ignore the “realities of oppression” and “otherize” those who do not share their views: political correctness isn’t just about your freedom of speech. It’s about our freedom to be offended. Transphobia and racism can and do kill people, and it is largely this mindset and the language that propagates it that are to blame. If the worst thing that can come out of the “Politically Correct Mafia” is that some people might have to check their speech and social media statuses so as to not say horrible things, that is an excruciatingly small price to pay.
Lamon’s sermon that we need to “stop with the safe spaces and trigger warnings, and get serious about changing the world” is ridiculous. We are apparently not doing anything to change the world by trying to “shield ourselves from it.” Guess what makes this “real” world “cruel” and “difficult” for people in the first place? Exactly this rigid self-righteousness and refusal to change. I’ll concede that talk is cheap, but people who aren’t even willing to change their words about a certain discourse can hardly be the ones to champion change.
While the 2016 presidential election has made a lot of us accustomed to consciously drowning out hate speech from the Republican front, it is imperative that we don’t. Nick Adams’ assertion that “political correctness is a sign of a decaying, (self) loathing, suicidal race and that ain’t America” is reflected in the Republican support for the epitome of all things politically incorrect. While I could oppose all of his ideological standpoints, the one point that pleads to be made is that political correctness is not antithetical to American exceptionalism, and it is his ludicrous propaganda that it is at the root of declining educational standards or security.
Political correctness is not robbing us all of our right to libertarian free speech, and it is certainly not antithetical to America’s foundational principles. At the same time, politically-correct speech alone is not enough to solve rampant societal problems. It is, however, the very least that a conscious citizen can do to restore the rights, dignity and personhood of those who have been deprived of it for too long. And I will say this again: political correctness is not a compromise on the ideal of America. It is a step in the direction of finally achieving it.