There’s a phrase people say that annoys me. Like, annoys me worse than people who leave shopping carts in parking spots rather than wheeling them over to a cart rack. Worse than people who leave their turn signal on for miles when I’m driving behind them and cannot ignore that damn blinking light. Worse, even, than parents who let their kids run rampant around a restaurant when employees are trying to deliver food or drinks.
Actually the use of this phrase does more than simply annoy me. The examples I gave above are mere annoyances. This phrase exasperates me. It gets my hackles up. It causes me to…well, I’ll let Mrs. White describe the feeling I get upon encountering this phrase:
Also, when I hear this phrase, I roll my eyes in disgust, because the people using the phrase are condemning something that is good, reasonable, and progressive. Something aimed at changing the discourse in society such that people from marginalized groups are crapped on just a little less. Something that’s about showing respect and decency to women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and People of Color. Still not sure what phrase I’m talking about?
Yes, ‘Politically correct’ is one of my huge bug-a-boos. It’s a phrase that is heard all the damn time in political and social discourse. Often the person using the phrase is decrying a phenomenon they don’t like. For instance, Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush recently shared his thoughts on ‘political correctness‘:
After an event in Gorham, N.H. today, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush rolled his eyes at the mention of protesters who heckled the phrase “black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter” at a progressive conference.
After uttering the phrase, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley made a series of quick apologies to attendees of Netroots Nation. Progressives at the conference, which took place over five days in Phoenix, praised O’Malley for the walkback. People unfamiliar with the phrase have since characterized that an inscrutable pander. When Yahoo! News reporter Jon Ward asked Bush if O’Malley should have apologized, the Republican said “no.”
“We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying ‘lives matter?'” asked Bush. “Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn’t have apologized to a group that seemed to disagree with it. Gosh.”
Following his much-talked about comments from last week about college students becoming too politically correct, Jerry Seinfeld elaborated his point during Late Night with Seth Meyers Tuesday night. When Seth Meyers noted that there are more people than ever now who will “let you know you went over the line” in comedy than ever before, Seinfeld agreed.
“And they keep moving the lines in, for no reason,” Seinfeld said, citing the uncomfortable feeling he now gets from his audience when he tells his joke about people who scroll through their phone like a “gay French king.”
“Are you kidding me?” he asked. “I could imagine a time where people say, ‘Well, that’s offensive to suggest that a gay person moves their hands in a flourishing motion and you now need to apologize.’ I mean, there’s a creepy PC thing out there that really bothers me.”
Former neurosurgeon and 2016 presidential hopeful Ben Carson has been engaging in something of a crusade against ‘political correctness’ for years. In the past, his hyperbolic rhetoric has included claims that political correctness is destroying the United States, that ‘PC’ ensures conformity to the elites, and that ::snorfle:: being ‘PC’ could lead the U.S. to collapse like Rome. In coming to the defense of the poor, embattled Donald Trump, Carson recently said the “PC police is out in force“:
In an interview with The Daily Caller, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson chalked the uproar over Donald Trump‘s controversial comments on Mexicans and illegal immigration to political correctness gone mad.
“It’s the P.C. police out in force,” Carson told the Caller’s Alex Pappas. “They want to make very clear that this is a topic you’re not supposed to bring up.”
Speaking of Donald Trump, he loves to lament the tendency of many in the United States to engage in ‘political correctness’. During the recent Republican debate, host Megyn Kelly asked him why he was such a sexist jerk:
“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’ ” Kelly began her question before Trump interrupted her with the one-liner “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” Trump has sparred with O’Donnell in the past, but as Kelly noted he’s issued similar insults to other women. “I think the big problem that this country has is being politically correct,” Trump responded to Kelly. “I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I frankly don’t have time for total political correctness, and to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore.”
Whether it is Ben Carson lamenting the downfall of the United States, Jerry Seinfeld sustaining a mortal wound to his fee fees, Jeb Bush’s inability to logic, or Donald Trump being unapologetically sexist, one thing is clear-they have a piss-poor understanding of the concept they’re deriding. Political correctness has a specific meaning:
Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct, commonly abbreviated to PC) is a pejorative term used to criticize language, actions, or policies seen as being excessively calculated to not offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. The term had only scattered usage prior to the 1990s, usually as an ironic self-description, but entered mainstream usage in the United States when conservative author Dinesh D’Souza used it to condemn what he saw as left-wing efforts to advance multiculturalism through language, affirmative action, opposition to hate speech, and changes to the content of school and university curriculums. The term came to be commonly used in the United Kingdom around the same period, especially in periodicals such as the Daily Mail, a conservative tabloid that became known for the trope “political correctness gone mad.”
‘Political correctness’ boils down to treating disadvantaged groups with respect and decency. This is why the people who use this phrase with disdain (quite frequently, though not always, conservatives) tick me off. They fail to grasp what it is that people are critiquing when they engage in “political correctness”. Look at Jeb Bush’s comments above. He expresses scorn at people who criticize the use of the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’. To him, it is self-evident that all lives matter. But he makes no attempt to understand what activists mean by ‘Black Lives Matter’. He doesn’t engage in any critical thought. If he did, he’d realize that BLM activists were arguing against O’Malley’s comments bc they felt that ‘All Lives Matter’ is a disrespectful derailment tactic. Of course all lives matter. But in the context of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, the focus is on black lives, bc black people in the U.S. routinely deal with disproportionate levels of discrimination and oppression from the criminal justice system. All lives might technically be true, but black lives are not valued as much as white ones.
In the case of Jerry Seinfeld, he has his feelings hurt because people didn’t laugh at his jokes. But he doesn’t engage his brain in an attempt to understand where his critics are coming from. He comes across as expecting people to laugh at him (funny how conservatives claim liberals have an entitlement mentality). He insults his critics by labeling them as ‘PC’, yet all they did was criticize him for his words. His ‘gay french king’ “joke” rested upon stereotypes of gay people as flamboyant and prone to moving their hands in a “flourishing motion”. Yeah, some gay people do that. But so do some bisexual people. And heterosexual people. He *could* have given some thought to the criticism in an attempt to understand why people didn’t find the joke funny. But no. Instead, he lashed out at his critics with the ‘PC’ label, bc there’s nothing wrong with him, it’s other people.
Then there’s Ben Carson, who, like Seinfeld and Bush, does not understand the very phrase he’s using. In defending Donald Trump, he’s basically saying that Trump’s critics want him censored. That he shouldn’t speak out about immigrants. That’s not true in the slightest. Once again, a critical eye towards understanding those critics reveals that they’re outraged that Trump’s comments were insensitive, stereotypical, and racist. *That* is what the problem is. In addition, people aren’t calling for him to be censored by anyone other than himself. His critics also don’t have the power to censor him. Which is evident by the fact that Trump hasn’t shut up. He doubled and tripled down on his disparaging comments about Mexicans and undocumented immigrants. For Ben Carson though, criticism of Trump’s racism equates to attempts to censor him.
And then there’s Donald Trump himself. Though he was criticized for making sexist comments, Trump just thinks such criticism is ‘political correctness run amok’. He doesn’t have time for ‘PC’, and he won’t engage in that. What that tells me is that he has no interest in moderating his speech to avoid sexist language. He has no interest in being less of a douchebag towards women.
And that’s at the very heart of the complaints of Bush, Seinfeld, Carson, and Trump: a refusal to moderate their language to be less offensive. They don’t want to be respectful towards the people their comments target. So they contemptuously lash out at their critics and subtly (or overtly at times) claim they’re being censored. No censorship has occurred. Nor is any likely to occur. Criticism is all they receive and I think one of the biggest problems facing critics of ‘PC culture’ is their inability to deal with being criticized. They have this mentality that they should be able to say what they want, when they want, and how they want, while facing no criticism. Because they have images to maintain, and being labeled a bigot would tarnish how the public perceives them. To that I say: tough. Bigots are exactly what they are. If you’re having trouble understanding how, Neil Gaiman has an answer:
I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”
Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile.
You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.
I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!”
So whenever you see someone bemoaning ‘PC’ culture, or political correctness gone mad, replace that phrase with ‘treating people with respect’ and prepare for enlightenment and amusement.
P.S. Check out this Tweet from a leading conservative. It’s funny as hell.
It is a shame that a candidate for President confuses political correctness and common decency.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 8, 2015