Correct me if I’m wrong…

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey/flickr

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey/flickr

Political correctness: The new tyranny

Mark Parent
Opinions Editor

There are those among us who want to kill freedom of speech, and we cannot let that happen.

In today’s age, political correctness has become a form of speech fascism that is used to oppress, judge and label individuals for even a minor slip of the tongue. And on college campuses, including this one, this form of oppression is in vogue and nearly immune from criticism.

Yet, I find it incredibly important to tackle this issue head-on in order to prevent the speech fascists from flippantly treating the First Amendment like a speed limit sign on the highway.

Last week, for instance, the Los Angeles Times reported that students at Washington State University were warned against saying offensive words, like “male” and “female.” If you didn’t know, biology is horribly offensive and should never be spouted in public, much less celebrated and acknowledged.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that the instructor, Selena Breikks of the Women and Gender Studies department, laid down such harsh punishments for her insensitive students that many of us may have flunked out. To be more specific, she writes in her class syllabus, “Repeated use of oppressive and hateful language will be handled accordingly — including but not limited to removal from the class without attendance or participation points, failure of the assignment, and — in extreme cases — failure for the semester.” In other words, Miss Breikks wants to be judge, jury and executioner in your freedom of speech trial.

Sadly, this mentality is not unique to this hypersensitive instructor. In fact, you’re bound to hear it every single day through a variety of mediums. And the message is always the same: be politically correct or else. The “or else,” of course, refers to the many labels that speech fascists will attach to you, such as racist, sexist, homophobe or xenophobe.

Obviously, these labels hurt a hell of a lot more than a tiny microaggression. I mean, seriously, does my insistence on not using gender-specific pronouns warrant me being called transphobic? I certainly hope that’s not the case.

It is beyond hypocritical for politically correct people to hurl such hurtful and personal insults toward people with whom they disagree. After all, I thought stopping hurtful language was the point of political correctness.

Now, I feel as if I must turn to microaggressions, which involve subtle prejudices that enter our vocabulary every single day. Of course, most people don’t care about or even notice these everyday phrases because they aren’t interested in wallowing in self-pity. For example, the next time you meet an international student in the Elliot University Center, please avoid asking them, “Where are you from?” This question is prejudicial and can hurt his or her feelings, despite the fact that everyone knows it doesn’t.

And if you do, then you should grow up and get ready to grow a layer of thick skin, because the real world does not care if you’re offended by a microaggression. This is especially true considering the fact that microaggressions are not slurs or insults — the only ones spewing that kind of language are the aforementioned speech fascists calling offenders racists, sexists and homophobes.

Please, don’t be worried about this pettiness. Instead, be worried about the real threats facing our society from the outside. Radical Islamic terrorists, which make up a distinct and minor group in the Islamic community, are intent on destroying our way of life and squashing all of our sacred freedoms.

This past January, I was in France during the Charlie Hebdo shootings; for me, it was a difficult few weeks, full of fear and confusion. Yet, it also proved to be an opportunity for the West to stand up and claim a right to say what they want, regardless of how offensive it might be. This is why “Je suis Charlie,” and “Nous sommes Charlie” signs were posted everywhere you went — terrorists had attacked liberté, a foundational principle of the Revolution, and that couldn’t be tolerated.

Now, let me be clear, Charlie Hebdo is a hateful publication that is even more vicious to Catholics than to Muslims. So, the outpouring of support was purely related to freedom of speech and not an acceptance of hate.

This past summer in America, coincidentally, there was a similar incident. In Texas, a group of far-right activists organized an Islamic-themed art exhibition, and two jihadists attacked. Luckily, a brave police officer was able to stop these terrorists and limit the massacre’s victim toll to only two.

But, due to the speech fascists, the media portrayed the victims in this attack to be the provocateurs. The New York Times’ Editorial Board, for example, chose to focus on the “racist” organizers of the event and not the terrorists who were intent on squashing constitutionally protected speech. This is crazy.

The tendency to revert to victim-blaming by the speech fascists is, as usual, hypocritical. When someone says a rape victim was asking for it when she dressed provocatively, that’s hateful and stupid. Yet, when two radical terrorists attack a group of provocateurs, it’s the victims’ fault. In my view, the victim is never at fault. Rape victims are victims, regardless of what they were wearing or doing prior to the assault. And, in the same way, provocateurs are victims of whatever violence is perpetrated against them. If people disagree with that assessment, then they are being intellectually dishonest and allowing their own personal feelings to influence their objectivity.

It’s about time that our generation stands up and says no to political correctness. Simply put, this mentality is causing us to turn away from important conversations about race, culture and gender. In order to truly move society forward, people have to make mistakes, and people have to feel free to speak their minds. By trying to stifle this process, the speech fascists have demonized individuals and caused further divisions within society.

So, please take my advice and don’t get so hung up on petty phrases and things your over-sensitive professor tells you.

And, most of all, remember that you have a right to speak your mind in a profound and unafraid way.

Jennifer Moo/flickr

Jennifer Moo/flickr

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey/flickr

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey/flickr

Political correctness isn’t an oppression 

Catie Byrne
Features Editor

I want every think piece writer who moans about political correctness and microaggressions to consider the critical issues raised when marginalized groups take staunch opposition to the perception that calling people out on their offensive behaviors is somehow an oppression itself.

The logic behind this argument is lazy, circular and requires no personal accountability. To specify, I am referring to the oft-referenced ‘right’ to freedom of speech, which, yes, is a fundamental right; however, it is not a get-out-of-jail-free-card for people to say offensive things under the guise of “freedom.”

To elaborate, most, if not all of the rhetoric predicated upon the notion that political correctness is going “too far” stems from those in a position of privilege who do not consider the repercussions that microaggressions can have on marginalized groups.

To clarify, microaggressions can include, but are not limited to, sarcastic comments, jokes, phrases and straw dog arguments aimed at delegitimizing marginalized groups and their experiences. Said groups will hear the same microaggressions told as a joke to excuse the institutional violence and oppression they face.

A life without any institutional struggles can obfuscate one’s ability to understand the perspective of peoples who have experienced marginalization. Therefore, completely privileged individuals lack the appropriate knowledge as to what is and isn’t offensive and do not have the capacity to understand why certain language and behavior can mock and endanger marginalized identities, as they are not marginalized.

Essentially, those not a part of any marginalized groups cannot grasp the nuance which comes with living within one or multiple marginalized groups nor understand the cultural and historical context behind why microaggressions actively contribute to dehumanization, institutionalized violence and oppression.

As a result, said privileged individuals cannot fully appreciate the inherent meaning and consequence perpetuated in the form of microaggressions. This, in effect, distances privileged individuals from the marginalized peoples who microaggressions harm.

In order to explain this, one must consider the motivation behind why microaggressions occur and why political correctness is often meant to mediate this.

An example of an unintentional microaggression could be, “At least I’m not like (x marginalized group); that would be awful.” While the speaker of this microaggression may not intend to harm the group he or she mentions, it can come off in a way that inadvertently reinforces perceived superiority.

A more politically correct way to express a similar sentiment would be: “(X marginalized group) endures a lot, and I can’t imagine what that must be like.” In order to prevent unintentional microaggressions, privileged people should take a step back and ask themselves whether or not what they intend to say could come across as ignorant or insulting before expressing a sentiment pertaining to marginalized groups with which they are unfamiliar.

On the other hand, intentional microaggressions blatantly display ignorance and come across sounding like, “Your existence is too complicated for me to consider, so I’m going to make fun of your experiences, and if that makes you mad, I’m going to make the institutional oppression you face about my feelings.” Obviously, as there are overlapping privileges and oppressions with regards to the degree of complexity and nuance existing in discussions of microaggressions and oppressive behavior, it is undeniable that certain minorities are also majorities and can, and do, commit transgressions and violence against each other.

This distinction is important, as no two oppressions are the same and have varying degrees of violence committed against them.

However, the spectrum with which specific peoples can hold multiple marginalized identities is endless, and said marginalizations of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion and disability are all unique and valid.

It is also important to note that people belonging to one or more marginalized groups often do not attain the same systematic privileges needed to oppress marginalized groups they do not belong to and certainly not to the degree that the most privileged majority does.One of these oppressions takes shape in microaggressions. While some may argue that microaggressions are harmless as they are not meant to be taken seriously, intention doesn’t matter when the consequences of microaggressions are real.

Over the course of a lifetime, microaggressions can pile up to create tangible damage and oppression. This damage is evident when clearly unequal power dynamics favor an individual with privilege over a marginalized individual in situations applicable to academia, work or relationships.

Within this dynamic, a myriad of events can transpire that enable toxic and abusive environments to form that allow the privileged to lord microaggressions over marginalized individuals without consequence. This is especially insidious when one considers that just existing as an individual within certain marginalized groups leads to an astronomically higher chance of being murdered, raped and completing suicide.

Keeping this in mind: to be politically correct is really a way to make a concerted effort to make the lives of marginalized individuals a little easier.

It requires a commitment to introspection, accountability, inclusion and a willingness to make mistakes in order to learn how to engage with marginalized groups in a respectful manner.

Categories: Catie Byrne, Columns, mark parent, Opinions

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