Columns / Discourse / January 25, 2017

Switching the emphasis of political correctness

There is no doubt that “political correctness” is an important subject at the moment. It is just as prevalent on campus as attacks against it were during the presidential campaign; we can assume the latter will continue for the foreseeable future. I believe that both are fundamentally misguided. In this first column I will explain my grievances with the current politically correct culture on campus and next week I will express my problems with the most popular lines of attack against it.

Let us begin by prescribing political correctness an operational definition so that we can work with it in the small amount of words allowed to us. Let’s just define “political correctness” as the suppression of words that are deemed offensive and prejudicial to certain groups of people. The idea of political correctness covers much more than just language but for the sake of argument we will limit ourselves to words.

Ch**k, b**ch, sp*c, n****r, f****t, and a whole other plethora of words fall under the category of non politically correct. They are offensive to entire groups of people and are typically prescribed by white, cis, straight males —the most privileged group in American society. Probably just reading those words makes many people uncomfortable. It probably sparks indignation in some readers that I might even put them in print. But this is where the problem with “political correctness” comes in. By simply trying to eliminate words from the country’s common lexicon the problem of racial and ethnic tensions do not disappear. These words are symptoms of deeper problems and curing the symptoms won’t cure the cause.

Along the same lines, the solution that seems to be most prevalent on campus when people hear politically incorrect language is to ostracize the perpetrator and label them as racist, sexist, etc. This is a powerful way of suppressing this type of language given the size of the campus. If one wants to keep a good or just normal reputation, they had better not say anything politically incorrect. However, even if a person censors themselves, that does not mean that they will stop holding beliefs that certain people are inferior to them.

When offensive language is heard, it makes much more sense to start a conversation with that person, to figure out why they believe what they do and to try and convince them why that language is inappropriate because of the prejudicial cultural patterns it represents. The most important aspect of this conversation should be that it stays within the realm of ideas. Nobody will be convinced by somebody telling them that the way they think is morally wrong. In other words, a dialogue is the real necessity. That means both parties must be open to new ways of thinking. This way, real relationships can form and positive work can be done to combat social ills.

I’d be happy to have a conversation about anything I’ve written above. Feel free to email me with your ideas: tmgrizzle@knox.edu.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this column that was submitted to The Knox Student spelled out the slurs listed, however, editors for TKS chose to censor them.

Tom Grizzle

Tags:  column dialogue discourse language morality offensive slurs

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