On Political Correctness

Max Chis | staff writer

crybullies_ben_garrison
Photo from Grrrgraphics.com. | Cartoon by Ben Garrison.

Recently I came across a political cartoon by Ben Garrison made in response to the Yale and Mizzou protests entitled, “Attack of the Crybullies.” A group of 25-foot screaming infants simulacra of college students race down a road, crying at the top of their lungs about “MY FEEWINGS!” and wielding a rattle of “RACIST!” and a toy sword of “SOCIAL JUSTICE.” These rampaging babies trample normal-sized liberals underfoot while books entitled “LOGIC,” “REASON” and “CONSTITUTION” are burning on the side of the road.

The cartoon encompasses so much of the hilarious and ridiculous complaints about political correctness: the politically correct are just a bunch of hypersensitive children! But they’re also unchecked monsters upending everything good and rational about our world.

Really, some people get so worked up over political correctness, one could even say they’re offended by it.

Political correctness, or PC, is typically defined as a standard of monitoring and correcting language, social environments, and media representation in order to make them more inclusive of socially disadvantaged or discriminated groups. But even with that definition, it is difficult for anti-PC types to identity what is and is not an example of political correctness. Are protestors clashing with the media an example of the “weaponization of safe space”? Maybe the protests at Yale are really “political correctness gone mad.” Nevermind the fact that the protests were actually about a long history of racial prejudice on campus – this is political correctness gone mad, dammit! We can’t busy ourselves with facts when our very ability to speak without criticism is being challenged!

The complaints of this anti-PC movement tend to focus on the shallowest, pettiest extensions of these protests, and use it to tarnish the entire movement. When protests against racial discrimination at Yale are equated with complaints that some professor made insensitive remarks about Halloween costumes, one begins to wonder exactly how rational these defenders of rationality are.

This asymmetrical comparison begs the question of who exactly is the thin-skinned one; white males (as the vast majority of those complaining about political correctness seem to be) can tolerate dissent over, say, economic or military policy. Such debates are certainly the foundation for a number of amusing-in-retrospect college arguments. But once you start to suggest that maybe these white males are being insensitive toward minorities, the discourse becomes occupied with, “Whoa, stop oppressing us!”

These anti-PC warriors believe that those enforcing political correctness should stop trying to tell other people what to say. But isn’t that exactly what these anti-PC types are doing? If the great offense of political correctness is that it inhibits freedom of speech, then doesn’t it also inhibit freedom of speech to tell people they shouldn’t be politically correct?

Ultimately, the anti-PC backlash is overblown and ridiculous. Nobody is trying to pass laws banning the discussion of anything (Florida notwithstanding). In reality, people are saying things, and others are responding to it. One could argue that current trends in political correctness are not conducive to its inclusionary goals, or that it unnecessarily excludes people who are making good faith efforts to be inclusive but who aren’t up to date on what is considered inclusive language. But even if we accept that those are problems in the current political correctness sphere, that’s a far cry from anyone being silenced.

There are legitimate concerns within complaints about political correctness, however few and far between they are. There is space to ask about whether trigger warnings are as helpful as they are touted to be. And there is space to ask about whether certain liberal groups’ emphasis on the right language can be just as exclusionary to those not in-the-know as it is inclusive to minorities. There is space to ask if in the zeal to oppose prejudice in all its forms, that some people may be unjustly punished in ways far out of proportion to whatever errors they committed. These are in fact ongoing debates in so-called politically correct circles. But these are not examples of the failure of political correctness, only that it is still being refined. And the people who will refine are the people who do value inclusive and careful language, not the people who so virulently oppose it. And even if we concede that political correctness is flawed, it seems a far better alternative than the old method of harming and marginalizing minority groups and pretending we’re doing nothing wrong.

 

Max is a senior psychology major. Like most millennials, he has no idea what to do with his life and is terrified of adulthood.

 

Check out more from December 2015 issue here.