ROSE BOSTWICK (GRADE 11)
When people talk about political correctness, they are usually talking about how awful it is. However, many of the values behind being PC are more relevant now than ever.
As I scrolled through my Instagram feed last October, I saw pictures of some girls, who happened to be white, dressed in Native American Halloween costumes. These pictures were captioned things along the lines of, “Cultural appropriation much?” As a fellow white person, the costumes obviously couldn’t have personally offended me. However, as most people are, I am aware of the argument against wearing a costume like this, which is that because white people have a well-known and illustrious history of systematically exterminating Native Americans, it’s insulting and generally racist to portray one as an inaccurate stereotype. Judging from their captions, the girls were obviously aware of this argument as well. This is indicative of the anti-PC sentiment common in our community. I am assuming that their reasonings for the costumes were something along the lines of: the idea of cultural appropriation is ridiculous, people are too easily offended, and the costumes are funny.
Donald Trump has said that in his opinion, the “big problem this country has is being politically correct.” Similar views are often echoed among conservative politicians, and one might assume that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to speak out against political correctness. Interestingly, the issue is in reality much more complex. A recent study by the National American Pilot Survey found that, once controlled for race or partisanship, liberals are just as likely to express “anti-PC” sentiments regarding racial language as moderates and conservatives. This means that on average, white liberals are just as likely as white independents or white conservatives to report that our culture is overly sensitive about race. Likewise, men are less likely than women to believe in the existence of sexism, regardless of ideology. Whereas 63% of women believe that there continue to be major obstacles for women to get ahead, only 41% of men feel the same, according to a study done last month by the Pew Research Center. The reasoning for why these disagreements exist should be obvious: white people in America have never faced racism or cultural discrimination and men don’t generally face discrimination or obstacles due to their gender. What we can take from this is people generally can’t understand the experiences of others unless they have lived through them themselves. This is why it is important to pay attention when people speak out in defense of themselves, no matter how ridiculous the complaint may seem to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
When people offer clear, thought-out arguments against “thought-policing,” I am definitely open to listening. There are certainly some egregious cases of people’s ideas being policed. For example, fighting against the opposition to certain books being read in college classes to prevent people from being offended is a real and legitimate argument against the movement. However, in the case of the Halloween costumes, the arguments are usually not thought out or even comprehensive and become more of a mockery of the idea of “being PC” rather than voicing legitimate concerns. Probably because of some extreme cases, many people are rebelling against the ideas entirely and going the other way. People often mock social justice supporters by sarcastically saying that they are “offended” or “triggered,” and while in some cases the thought behind this is understandable, it can seriously devalue the arguments of marginalized people who speak up with legitimate concerns. In my opinion, being politically correct is essentially just being tolerant of other races, classes, ethnicities, sexualities, genders, and cultures—just basic acceptance of everyone, not something to be ashamed of. If you assume that this thinking is no longer necessary in our society, all you have to do is take a look around. Police brutality is happening at alarming rates, and predominantly against minorities. Donald Trump, not exactly a progressive person, has a very real chance of becoming our next president. I recently had to unfriend someone on Facebook for having the Confederate flag as his cover photo. In comparison, cultural appropriation, for example, might seem like a minor thing to object to.
The problem with the aggressively anti-PC mindset is that it assumes that everyone secretly wants to be racist or sexist, but they are either uptight and sensitive or afraid of offending people. But in the end, our individuality is not being threatened by somebody suggesting that we stop using the N-word, stop making sexist jokes, stop appropriating their culture, or stop posting neo-Nazi memes in a school Facebook group. No one is born tolerant and open-minded, but by exposure to others, recognizing the privileges you have, and listening to people in different positions, you can better understand varied viewpoints.
Photo credit: Yakup SEVINC