Political correctness: progress or censorship?


Elizabeth Bachmann '17

During a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas, Texas July 7, a lone sniper killed five police officers, according to CNN. The Black Lives Matter movement condemned the incident and Ms. Rohini Sethi, a University of Houston student and vice president of the University’s Student Government Association, responded by posting “Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter,” on her Facebook page.
As a result, the Student Government Association suspended her position for 55 days and required her to attend a Libra Project diversity workshop and at least three cultural events at the University per month. She also had to write a reflection on the error of her ways and present it publicly during a September Senate meeting on campus, according to the University of Houston newspaper thedailycougar.com. All of this happened because she exercised her right as an American citizen to express her opinion about the events unfolding around her. Unfortunately, the University declared that her opinion was offensive, and therefore, should not be expressed.
Virginia school districts temporarily pulled Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the shelves and the curriculum after receiving a complaint that the novel was offensive. They also considered banning it permanently. NewSouth Books publishing company even produced a new version of the book that replaced all racial slurs and offensive phrases with safe language, according to washingtonpost.com. 
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York discourages professors and students from using the titles Mr., Mrs., and Miss to address one another because they promote gender binaries, according to youdontsay.org

Elizabeth Bachmann ’17

All of these are examples of political correctness run amok. Outwardly, this method of social engineering that is sweeping the nation is a mode of expression, or, rather, an ideology that promotes open-mindedness, welcomes diversity, furthers equality, and respects other beliefs. In reality, it accomplishes exactly the opposite.
Supporters of political correctness see it simply as a way to be respectful and sensitive to all people. This is a genuine sentiment and an essential one for any civil and harmonious democracy. The problem, however, is that political correctness has evolved into a powerful means of social engineering. It states that there is only one correct opinion — the “politically correct” opinion. This method of censorship attempts to sway public opinion in a specific, preordained direction. Rather than encouraging engagement in civil discourse, it shuts opponents down by labeling their ideas not only as incorrect, but as ignorant, intolerant, and bigoted. If people hear this message every day on social media, on the news, and in conversation, what are they going to believe?
For example, if you are pro-life, you are sexist.
If you are for immigration reform, you are xenophobic.
If you support stop and frisk, you are racist.
What began as a crusade for tolerance has become a political strategy that uses intimidation to shut people down and shut people up. Citizens are so afraid that they might cause offense that they choose not to open their mouths in the first place.
As a result, the movement for political correctness is eroding free speech. We now live in a society in which universities post lists of banned words and phrases, students aggressively attack people of different political persuasions, and schools and publishing companies seek to censor and eliminate classic literature that, right, wrong, or indifferent, is part of the human narrative.
Highlighting these problems is not an attempt to restrict the free speech of those who believe in political correctness. These people, of course, have the right to not say certain words, or accept certain opinions. This is a plea for all Americans not to use their freedom of speech to limit the free speech of others. We cannot make progress or create unity by retreating into our respective “safe spaces” and shutting one another down. Instead, people of all races, religions, and political persuasions need to come together and engage civilly with those who have different beliefs. This is the only way to solve problems.
Those who follow politically correct protocol are not usually ill-intentioned, but, rather, see their mission as a way of accepting diversity and rooting out offensive rhetoric. Yet, all too often, this actually limits diversity of ideas and promotes the use of labels through a form of groupthink.
Political correctness claims to be a friend to diversity, yet in a world where we want to be more tolerant, more embracing of differences, it is a shame that we must be so cautious in how we discuss these issues. This does not lead to community. It leads to disunity. Instead of talking about controversial subjects such as race, religion, and sexuality, people tend to shy away from them rather than risk using the incorrect word. This puts the nation into intellectual and civic shackles, and it simply should not be.
While we certainly do not want to promote racial slurs like those in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we do not want to erase them either. Removing words like these does not remove slavery or racism from American history. In fact, a crucial step to making lasting progress is recognizing and remembering what we did wrong.
Similarly, there is something wrong with a society that admonishes a student for expressing her grief over the death of a policeman, and then humiliates her by forcing her to undergo training to alter her beliefs and give a public dissertation rejecting her former opinions.
We do not want to regulate language to the degree seen on college campuses today where it is impossible to have a conversation that is not riddled with unknown micro-aggressions or to post on Facebook without causing unintentional offense. If we continue in this vein, we will be left with only good or ungood to express ourselves, the newspeak skillfully portended in George Orwell’s 1984, an utter betrayal of the ideals and values our Founding Fathers established this nation upon.
Ultimately, political correctness does not solve problems. It does not lead to compromise. It does not invite genuine, intellectual, and political dialogue. Instead, it muddies the waters, making any foray into the political arena dangerous and unpredictable, and likely to end in personal humiliation and unintentional offense. Society must endeavor to be respectful of all races, cultures, traditions, and religions, but not through censorship and political shaming. We should embrace our American constitutional right to free speech and remember that in the search for truth, nothing is more powerful than free, civil, and diverse discourse.
-Elizabeth Bachmann, Content Editor