*Please read past the clickbait-y title.
The other day I was telling a friend that I was writing a humorous article for Medium about my frustration with my boyfriend’s FREAKIN’ UNENDING ATTEMPT AT BECOMING A CITIZEN ASTRONAUT, but I stopped writing it out of fear of offending someone.
Whom would I offend, you ask? I recalled that at one time I tweeted about this dilemma and someone called me out for having “first world problems.” That reminder was enough for me to abandon the essay.
You see, as a writer, I’m very conscious about political correctness. I’ve experienced firsthand how one, or many, can jump all over you for saying…well, pretty much anything.
Or not saying anything.
You’re f’ed either way.
Write about how much you love your city, Austin? You’re racist, sexist or homophobic for not always including stories of injustice that happen in your city. (It doesn’t matter if you actively write about injustice in other posts.)
Poke fun at people who live in the tiny houses you see on HGTV? You’re hateful and angry of others who are different than you. And you perpetuate America’s gross consumerism.
Make fun of your dating habits when you’re in early twenties? You’re a sexist for making fun of the poor dating choices that women in their early twenties often make.
Actually, I’m pretty nervous to write this post.
Though many conservatives are the first to suggest that it is the “lib-tards” who are perpetuating political correctness, I can tell you that as a proud libtard, I may be conscious of PCness, but I’m not a fan of it.
I breathed a sigh of relief when Tina Fey, a feminist role model to many, including myself, recently said that she was “opting out” of apologizing for her jokes. I smiled when Chris Rock said he’s going to stop playing at colleges because of students’ “social views and their willingness not to offend anybody.” I clapped when President Obama said he didn’t agree with college students “being coddled” and “protected from different points of view.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not calling for the Donald Trump-style mouth diarrhea-hate that completely disrespects and disregards human life, nor am I asking for an increase in racist or homophobic memes from your uncle Wayne. That is hate speech- not political incorrectness- and it should be called as such.
What I’m talking about is the paralyzation we now feel because we’re afraid of offending. No longer can we speak of current events, politics, race, religion or sexuality without the fear of being misinterpreted or declared as someone who is ignorant or insensitive. It’s like we’re now living in Larry David’s nightmares.
When did we become so offended by everything?
Half-assed research finds that the usage of the term “political correctness” became popular in the 1990s, which also happened to be the dawn of the internet.
Is it the internet that perpetuates political correctness? Just as it has perpetuated poorly written, expletive-riddled Youtube comments and Reddit threads, it’s enabled us to hide behind our screens and easily rattle off our grievances without thought to ramifications. Or maybe we do understand the ramifications, and we are ok with that. Ramifications that include the quick firing of an employee who has said something deemed politically incorrect; the downfall of one’s career; a very public shaming from complete strangers on the web.
What political correctness has done is make teachers afraid to challenge their students out of fear of losing their jobs; it’s made writers, comedians and artists afraid to broach certain topics and therefore stifling their unique viewpoints and voices; it’s causing the thinkers- the people most concerned with offending- to stop talking, and the ignorant and hateful to become louder; it’s causing intellectual debate and thought to be watered down.
I think of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which examines the rise of public shaming and mob mentality on the internet: “We’re creating a culture where people feel constantly surveilled, where people are afraid to be themselves.”
I’m going to share an anecdote below, and in the spirit of this piece, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE DON’T INTERPRET THIS AS ME LOVING ON NEO-NAZIS.
There is a famous podcast from Love + Radio called “The Silver Dollar” (if you’ve never listened to it, you should). The podcast features the story of African-American musician and author Daryl Davis, who became friends with various members of the Klu Klux Klan and was able to drive several important members to quit the organization. Davis shares a story from 10th grade when his teacher brought in the leader of the American Nazi Party, Matt Koehl, to his Problems in the 20th Century class.
“You cannot do that today in high school. All that political correctness, which if you ask me, is a bunch of bullspit,” Davis says in the podcast.
During Koehl’s lecture, he pointed to Davis and another African-American student in the class and said they were going to be shipped back to Africa. Davis was stunned. “From that day forward- that was a turning point in my life- I began collecting everything I could get my hands on that dealt with white supremacy, black supremacy, anti-semitism, the Nazis in Germany, the neo-Nazis overs here, the Klu Klux Klan, things like that. Music is my profession, but learning more about racism on all sides of the tracks was my obsession.”
As a Jew and a human being, I can’t imagine for the life of me wanting the leader of the American Nazi Party speaking in my child’s classroom, nor do I think that hate speech should be encouraged in public settings, but I get where Davis is coming from. This experience, seeing a person so opposite of himself, planted the seed for Davis to do the incredible work he has done in the field of race relations.
In the Atlantic article “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argue that shielding college students from different views will ill-prepare them for the future. “If students graduate believing that they can learn nothing from people they dislike or from those with whom they disagree, we will have done them a great intellectual disservice.”
We shouldn’t shield ourselves from views different from our own. It is how we learn to not only become better people and better intellects, but to remind ourselves that we are all different. And in reminding ourselves that we are all different, we’re better able to communicate with one another.