What We Talk About When We Talk About Political Correctness

Beginning in the early 1990s, a cultural war began in which the term, “Political Correctness”, became the weapon in the arena that is speech. In his 1990 New York Times article, IDEAS & TRENDS; The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct, Richard Bernstein declared that “The term ‘politically correct,’ with its suggestion of Stalinist orthodoxy, is spoken more with irony and disapproval than with reverence…is being heard more and more in debates over what should be taught at the universities.” This inflammatory article ignited a spark that set the whole country ablaze with debates that covered every topic of the ideological spectrum. Although initially aimed at addressing issues of intellectualism and pressures to conform in American universities, the issue of “political correctness” has become the weapon in a modern battlefield; a linguistic war being fought over context, meaning, and articulation.

The media’s ability to frame any debate is exceptionally prevalent in the recent Trayvon Martin death/George Zimmerman trial. This case became big, despite 2,720 Black citizens murdered in the United States in 2010; wherein, a total of 2,459 murders were committed by a Black offender. George Zimmerman (although being Hispanic) was labeled “White.” Thus the murder became as much about race as it was about what is and what is not “politically correct” in America. Brendan O’Neill of The Telegraph claimed that the trend of donning hoodies was a “politically correct blacking up”; a symbol of white privilege. Geraldo Rivera, following his inflammatory remarks that Trayvon’s sartorial choices contributed to his death, apologized for his “politically incorrect approach to this story.” But by claiming his comments were “politically incorrect,” Rivera belays any responsibility for his remarks, instead choosing the route that allows him to reiterate his original point from his original piece. This strategy imbues a sense that Rivera’s method, although shocking, is effective and real.

In addition, the movement to characterize “political correctness” as “un-American” is most apparent when “political correctness” is tied in to “cultural Marxism.” In Pat Buchanan’s 2001 novel, The Death of the West, he states that, “Political Correctness is Cultural Marxism, a regime to punish dissent and to stigmatize social heresy as the Inquisition punished religious heresy” (p. 89). In addition, opponents of “political correctness” attempt to link the movement with an attempt to shift an individual’s behavior to a more liberal one. This leads me to believe that the difficulty people-whether conservative or liberal-have with “political correctness” is the phrase itself, rather than the function. To be “politically correct” indicates an inflexible set of rules that must be followed in society, when it merely means to proffer thoughtfulness and selecting words that can express meaning without being unnecessarily demeaning.

According to Taylor, the prominent Duke Lacrosse case exemplifies the use of “political correctness” in a legal case. Taylor attacks the media’s response to the infamous court case that led a witch hunt against rich, young, successful, white males simply because they were rich, young, successful, white males. He argues that this is the result of left-leaning biased reporters, academics, and other influential figures that wanted to scapegoat these college boys rather than pursue the truth. Thus, the linking of academic snobbery and liberalism is linked, and “political correctness” is used as a Red Herring to create reactionary emotions by the public.

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote a piece that addressed cultural, societal, and individual biases towards race and gender. In it, he wrote that “…biases are not immutable.” So why can they not be addressed? Why is it that if I were to confront someone about their bias/racism/sexism/etc., that I would be deemed “too easily offended”, and too “politically correct”? If a person wants to make a joke using offensive and antiquated language, then do it. That is an individual right protected Constitution. However, if context of the speech is insinuated in an unenlightening manner, then to say such speech is offensive is not “politically correct”, it is just correct. Certainly there is no harm in snipes and ribbings; they keep people laughing and egos in check. But, no one wants “political correctness” to be indoctrinated impetuously into society. What people yearn for is for desisting of pretending that racism, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism don’t exist, as well as people attempting to camouflage these things as “jokes.”


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