The abuse (and misuse) of PC

Paula Deen’s public meltdown was met with a lot of her fan’s indignant support, many of whom reserved tickets for her cruise as well as reserving copies of her new cookbook, which looks like it won’t be published.

In a lot of the tweets, Facebook posts, and amazon reviews, fans of Deen have complained bitterly of the public being too “PC” or politically correct.

I thought a lot about that term “politically correct” which has become something of a slur. There’s a reason – historically, the term was a slur, implying a policing of thought, which is what a lot of PC-bashers tend to whine about.

But I think the term’s a little overused. Whenever someone raises an issue with some kind of racism, homophobia, sexism, some sort of defensive asshole will say, “Hey, don’t be so ‘PC'” or some douchey comic will proudly lob some racist or misogynistic joke and then proudly proclaim that he’s being un-PC.

So being a jerk has become some kind of badge of honor – a way to denote some kind of independence of thought, or to highlight some kind of imagined bravery.

Yeah, I don’t think so. You know what kind of people are un-PC? Schoolyard bullies. Yeah, these are the role models of the folks who rail against sensitivity, because that’s what us “language police officers” are really talking about – sensitivity.

And you know what? I don’t think it’s such a heavy burden for white people not to say the n-word. I don’t think it’s so hard for men to not call strong women bitches. And I’ve never heard of a straight guy falling ill because he wasn’t allowed to call a gay dude a fag.

I can’t help but shrug and wonder what these un-PC activists want. Do you want to call black people the n-word? You can, but you have to expect some kind of fall out – if you act like a bigot, then people will think you’re a bigot. You don’t want to seem like a bigot, it’s easy: don’t be a bigot.

And to the comedians who think you have to be politically incorrect to be funny or edgy – using assholery as a crutch because you can’t think of any other kind of material means you might want to rethink your career choice – getting people to laugh because you pandered to some primordial, devolved section of your audience may not be the best avenue for your talents (a visit to a career counselor may not be out of line – I’m looking at you Larry the Cable Guy).

But here’s the secret: defending un-PC behavior is just another way of folks railing against the shift in our cultural values – or culture wars – you remember the culture wars, when supposedly gay people, blacks, Muslims, and feminists were intent on reverting all that’s great and holy about this country because we were asking for petty, little pesky things like, oh I don’t know – equal rights.

Because that’s the whole point of the phrase – PC – it’s meant to denigrate any progress liberalism has made. We’re meant to feel inadequate or silly because we insist on certain words or phrases, when all we’re trying to do is to make sure that people’s feelings aren’t hurt. Do we go too far? Maybe, but I’d prefer to err on the side of caution and add more words, terms and language to our daily speech than to run the risk of injuring someone’s self-esteem or feelings of self-worth or someone’s feelings of belonging. I’d rather learn the new term for a group of people than to trivialize or minimize any pain that group may be going through, that I – in my state of white male privilege – am unprivy to.

Being proudly un-PC is just simply resentment at the shift in the daily discourse that is beginning to frown upon casual bigotry – and there’s a deeper reason for this resentment – it’s also reflecting a slow degradation of the status quo and the power structure that those in power are so intent on maintaining. Crapping on Muslims is getting harder and harder (though it’s still going on, far too much) and because it’s getting harder and harder, it’s also getting harder and harder to normalize Islamophobic behavior. Then end result (hopefully) will be saner immigration laws and foreign policy that will eschew the demonization of Muslims and Arabs. And that’s just too much for a lot our knuckle-dragging brethren to handle, so they spout their racist crap and insist that if we object to terms like “sand n*gger” or “towel head” we’re being overly sensitive and PC – because the social order in this country still treats Muslims and Arabs as “the other” which then allows for our elected officals to pass laws and support political and military action that targets them, and we as a society are fine, because in our everyday life, we’re fine with marginalizing Muslims.

So all of my rambling sort-of explains why I get a major case of the eyerolls (seriously, I become almost Sally Draper-like) when I see someone grousing about how “PC mad” we’ve gotten because someone is taken to the mat for cracking a gay joke, or for insisting that it’s okay to “sometimes” use the n-word, because “everybody does it” and “no one’s perfect.”

But the best defense for political correctness is neatly summed up by one of my favorite blogs, The Angry Black Woman (a fantastic blog that everyone should check out):

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that people who rail against Politically Correct speech are those who do not want to have to be polite or civil to folks different from them. They see nothing wrong with using the language they grew up with or that they’ve come to use. They do not care if the language they use is hurtful to others because, after all, the most important thing is that they get to do what they want when they want. This is the prevailing attitude of people with privilege.

I’m not just talking about White Privilege, either. Any kind of privilege can result in this attitude. Because it’s usually the underprivileged who are asking for new labels and new language. It is one of the great markers of privilege that those who have it can ignore the voices of those who don’t. They can disparage and actively suppress efforts to level the playing field. They can spit PC at anyone who asks for a little civility.

Common decency. How often do we hear people asking where it went?

Politically Correct language is important. Whether we keep calling it PC or we start calling it Civil Speech or Inclusive Talk, we need to fight for it. Changing language, changing society, building a better future, that’s hard work. But here we have an excellent tool for doing so that doesn’t require marching, letter-writing, or even picking up a newspaper. Let’s make sure people use it.


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