Debate Forum: 12/23

Forum Center: Is PC passé? The DCP political correctness debate

By Sarah Sidlow

Illustration: Jed Helmers

In a unanimous October vote, the Seattle, Washington, City Council voted to recognize Columbus Day, a federal holiday, as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Seattle isn’t the first city to do so, having followed the lead of a similar April vote in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and other cities, in an effort to reflect upon and celebrate both the ongoing struggles and vibrant cultures of Indigenous people all over America.

While the re-naming was taken on in an effort to be inclusionary of an often overlooked but vibrant culture in America and America’s history, some, for whom Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian-American heritage, saw the move as offensive.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Day conversation proved the consideration of political correctness is at the forefront of many community discussions. The re-naming of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, proponents argued, not only painted a more accurate picture of history (discouraging the celebration of Columbus “discovering” the new world), but it also indicated a desire for good faith between often disparate cultures.

The heated media conversation that followed the announcement proved another point about political correctness: you can’t please all the people all the time.

Political correctness is an unavoidable component in our daily lives. While today it is a common part of discussion – from casual conversation to workplace training – the history of the term dates back to the late ’70s or early ’80s, as a sarcastic half-joke during the time of social and cultural revolution that included the LGBT, black and feminist movements.

Practitioners of political correctness have engaged the world in a concerted effort to avoid language or actions that could be offensive or discriminatory to a particular person or group of people, based on race, ethnicity, origin, orientation, gender or disability. The goal is a “harmonious” society, in which its citizens are sensitive to the experiences of others. Steps toward political correctness include using gender-neutral terms (such as “firefighter” in place of fireman), value-free phrases (like “visually impaired” in place of blind) and value-free cultural terms and phrases (like “Happy Holidays!” in place of “Merry Christmas”).

They say it is our civic duty to be kind to our fellow man, to be sensitive to the way our words may impact the thoughts and feelings of others, and that striving for political correctness also represents the desire to be accurate in our descriptions of people, customs and events.

Yet the presence of the PC-police has left many citizens feeling uncomfortable and unsure – tongue-tied, for example, when trying to describe an African American (only to be used to describe a person descended from American slaves) or a member of the LGBTQQIP2SAA (yes, this is real) community.

Those who say political correctness have gone too far call it “Cultural Marxism” – a mandated uniformity of language that may render us unable to speak intelligently about our differences, or lead us to avoid those conversations altogether. They argue that by self-censoring any conversation pertaining to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or physical ability, we are doomed to perpetuate the very barriers we say we want to overcome. And, they say, it can be downright confusing.

As the year 2014 winds to a close here in the Miami Valley, Dayton and its surrounding communities celebrate the onslaught of the holiday season – a time filled with community parades and events for the entire family. But while the kids may be tiptoeing around the fireplace to catch a glimpse of Santa, area adults may be tiptoeing around Christmastime language.

The city of Troy stands alone in the region in naming its holiday event the “Christmas Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting.” Other regions avoided the C-word altogether with names like Downtown Dayton’s “Dayton Holiday Festival,” which included major events like the Dayton Children’s Parade and the Grande Illumination (of a Christmas tree), as well as plenty of visits with Santa at the Tike’s gift shop. The city of Miamisburg contributed with the Miamisburg Community Holiday Event and Parade, which was comprised of community-made floats, all of which followed the theme, “Christmas movies.”

The village of Yellow Springs may be awarded the most “correct” in its holiday-event naming, with “The Yellow Springs Holiday Festival,” because, on Dec. 27, the Kwanzaa holiday will be recognized with a community event.

The grip of political correctness on our society is tight. Globalization and a changing societal structure necessitates a cultural and personal awareness among colleagues, neighbors and the general public. But is it possible political correctness has gone too far? Is it making people more sensitive? Could it be that people are now so worried about saying the wrong thing, they choose not to speak up at all?

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com

 

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Has political correctness gone too far?

Debate Left: Because PC is a good idea

By Marianne Stanley

Yeah. Like it would kill us to be considerate of others!

Isn’t it just the strangest thing, for example, that “Christians” are up in arms about doing the “politically correct” thing of saying “Happy Holidays” during the Christmas season? Doesn’t Christ’s lifelong example dictate love, acceptance and consideration our fellow wo/man?? Most folks don’t know the term “Political Correctness” (PC) first went mainstream in the U.S. in the 1990s when right-wing politicians came up with it as a negative descriptor applied to all manner of topics. In the earlier 20th century, Russian socialists used it when referring to those Russians who stuck with the Communist “party line.” Both then and now, it was a pejorative, used as a way of putting down the speaker or writer.

Today, in the U.S., political correctness is mocked, criticized, put down – as though showing respect and consideration for minority groups is a bad thing. How can this be so? Why is it horrible to say, for instance, that sports team names such as “Braves” or “Redskins” are offensive and need to be changed? Shouldn’t that merit thoughtful review and acquiescence instead? If the terms used are offensive to the people they refer to, then they are offensive, period. Change them!

We’ve probably all seen this same principle in practice in our own lives or families. Once “one of ours” suffers from something like cerebral palsy, autism, dementia, physical or mental disability, the jokes about those things are no longer funny to us. Understanding replaces a cavalier attitude. 

The official definition of PC is: “The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” In other words, PC is simply showing common decency.

By laying off the crude language, the put downs, the exclusionary language and the divisive talk, we quit disrespecting each other, immediately making the world a better place. We should want that for each other and our children.

Throwing a hissy fit when “Happy Holidays” is spoken or printed is nothing more than acceding to the talking heads and groups like the American Family Association’s very UN-American, UN-Christian intention of pushing us apart rather than celebrating the season in any of its many forms. “Merry Christmas” is great! So is “Happy Holidays!” So is “Happy Hanukkah!” or “Happy Kwanzaa!” It’s the spirit of the thing that matters. Embrace and enjoy that. A greeting is a greeting is a greeting.

Meanwhile, the best we can all do is to pay closer attention to our own biases and prejudices, especially since those dominant in a culture are generally blind to that culture’s demeaning or outright unjust treatment of those who are not at the top of the heap. If someone voices their dislike for certain words used to describe women or Muslims or African Americans, for heaven’s sake, listen! There is always room for us to grow in wisdom and in heart. Best of all, it’s both free and freeing!

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: Because PC is an empty promise

By Dave Westbrock

Let’s face it. Political correctness is simply bullying. Far from isolating a poor adolescent and forcing her into psychiatric care or worse, politically correct thinking simply bullies an entire population into speech behavior in order to avoid public ridicule. It not only robotizes Americans but changes the culture and attendant behavior. In fact, “bully” itself has become a PC term. Far from the days of Teddy Roosevelt and his use of “bully” as robust and good or “bully pulpit” as an example of the powerful perch from which every president broadcasts, it has become a dirty word. The most recent example is that of Monica Lewinsky being bullied by the press rather than her taking personal responsibility for knowingly having an affair with a married man.

Many examples in use currently have dulled the English language. For example, the use of “gender” to refer to sex is simply wrong. Gender is a language tool. Traditionally, gender is used in languages other than English to refer to nouns by gender. For instance, “she” and “her” are feminine while “he” and “his” are masculine. While these are references to sex, other languages, such as German, designate articles by gender. “Der Loeffel,” meaning spoon, is masculine while “Die Gabel” is feminine for fork and “Das Messer” is neuter for knife. These are gender designations and have nothing to do with sex. Basically, then, when you hear a TV talking head refer to someone as of the female gender, this simply conveys ignorance, with no understanding of language meaning. Similarly, it is common to refer to a ship as “she” and a country as motherland or fatherland. But the language police seem to prudishly believe sex is somehow a dirty word. 

OK, female sex refers to human beings, each with ovaries and a uterus, whose chromosome complement includes two x chromosomes. Men are typically born with a penis and testicles and have one X and one Y chromosome. 

There, I wrote it! 

I probably violated some precious correct rule. Gender does not designate transgenders or transvestites. Such designations are simply males or females who choose to be regarded as something else, but they are still either of male or female sex. Interestingly, our PC friends never seem to use neuter, which, of course, refers to inanimate objects that are of neither SEX.

Recently, I was surprised to find out I could no longer refer to someone from the Far East as “Oriental” but must use “Asian” instead. This is yet another example of sheer ignorance. I asked a colleague, a first generation lady of Japanese descent, if this term offended her. She said it did not. Do these PC ignoramuses realize what oriental means? Is it demeaning to call someone from Altoona, Pennsylvania, “Occidental”? Oriental refers to eastern just as Occidental designates western. If someone called me Occidental, I would not be outraged, but I might laugh.

This brings me to my final point: our utter obsession with race. In my youth, it was appropriate to refer to those of the negroid race as “colored people,” as in, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It then became unacceptable. In the ’70s, you had to say “blacks,” but now “African American” is the only acceptable designation, despite the fact that those born of that race may have derived from anywhere in the world. When you come right down to it, following the discovery of a 3-million-year-old female fossil in east Africa dubbed “Lucy,” it appears we may all be African-Americans by decent. But now we have come full circle – as Jesse Jackson now talks about “people of color.” 

Does it really matter? There are unique characteristics to every race, whether Causcasian, Negroid, Mongoloid or Australoid (aborigine), and we should not be embarrassed about our wonderful diversity. What is most important is not to categorize individuals by race, but by “Bob” or “Melanie” or “Dewan” or even “my friend.” We are so used to grouping people to judge them based on biases that we miss the individual beauty of each soul. Society and, worse, government resorts to using demographics for marketing, political identity and social planning, and we miss the joy of bringing us all into the oneness of being Americans. 

Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of healthcare reform and healthcare policy. He can be reached at Dave.Westbrock@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Left: Because words matter

By Mike Truax

Conservatives have beaten “political correctness” senseless. To them, it’s pedantic. Oversensitive. Humorless. The correct pronunciation includes an eye roll and a sneer.

Political correctness is one of their favorite straw men to batter. It’s barely a scarecrow anymore, just a pile of hay in the middle of a cornfield.

To many, “political” is synonymous with “disingenuous.” It’s certainly not difficult to understand why. We could pause here to watch a lengthy highlight reel of politicians lying though their teeth and pandering to everyone within shouting distance.

Within that context, the phrase “political correctness” implies an inherent dishonesty. It signals that we only say certain things because they are wise to say when trying to please everyone. In our culture, there’s not much worse than someone who won’t just tell you what he or she thinks.

Within the conservative echo chamber, political correctness becomes a symptom of the dreaded nanny state that doesn’t just protect the weak, but coddles it and rewards the oversensitive.

That’s partially because politically correct changes vary in significance. “Stewardesses” became “flight attendants.” “Garbagemen” are now “sanitation engineers.” “Lunch ladies” are “lunch monitors.” Many of the changes were easy to ridicule as needless changes to relatively harmless language.

Other differences, however, were more critical, such as changes in the way we speak about racial and religious minorities, sexual assault victims or the LGBT community. Those changes aren’t just correct politically, however. What is unacceptable now was wrong before, and not just in a political sense.

Liberals are at fault here, too: They need to make a stronger case for why these changes in words are important. They need to clarify why the new words are correct, and not just politics. A common start to social change is altering words because language is powerful – language leads change as often as it follows it.

Truthfully, it’s not easy to admit we were ever wrong in the way we thought or spoke in the past. Politicians are a ready target to lampoon for changes to generally acceptable beliefs or phrases. It’s difficult to realize that we were wrong. It’s not that certain things were fit for a certain place and time – they were wrong then, and we were wrong for saying them, but we just didn’t understand. And language matters. The words you choose may not affect you directly, but they can have serious impacts on kids, family and friends, or just strangers on the Internet.

Now, politically incorrect can mean anything from a generally unpopular opinion to hate speech. “This isn’t politically correct, but …” is often synonymous with “I’m not racist, but …” Everyone knows what comes next, and it’s not pretty.

So I have the first step to a solution: Kill off the phrase “Political Correctness.” Stop allowing excuses for ignoring changes in language or intentionally undermining it as unnecessary and oversensitive. Reserve changes in commonly accepted language for when it matters the most, and go with what it really is: “Correctness.”

Michael Truax is a freelance writer, digital marketing consultant, entertainment enthusiast and bar trivia champion living in West Chester, Ohio. He can be reached at MichaelTruax@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: Because PC will be the death of us all

By David Landon

There is an absurd notion sweeping college campuses that our young scholars need to be protected from any speech that might possibly upset the delicate sensibilities of today’s college student. There are countless examples of political correctness run amok from which I could choose to share. Faculty members and administrators from some of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning have taken it upon themselves to operate as the thought and speech police. Somewhere along the way, we have lost the concept that college campuses serve us best when they are truly the marketplace of ideas. It doesn’t mean there will never be occasions when the speech of another student won’t upset you. The college experience should put you in situations where your beliefs are placed in direct conflict with and challenged by the belief systems of others. That’s how we learn. However, political correctness is now so out of control with speech codes and online harassment policies, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make college a place where young people can grow intellectually while challenging one another’s deeply-held beliefs.

Let’s be clear. Political correctness is a weapon used by the Left to move society in the direction of their choosing by making tradition and Judeo-Christian values things to be scorned. They are using political correctness to shape and control society. We either follow their dictates or face their scorn until we do. We live in a world where everyone lives in fear of being unfairly branded as politically incorrect by simply practicing our beliefs, saying something which challenges someone else’s worldview or conducting ourselves in a manner someone else doesn’t like.

So what are some of the recent examples that leave us scratching our collective heads?

I’ve never been a Bill Maher fan as he and I are polar opposites on the political and religious spectrums. However, I’ve never been afraid to listen to Maher’s commentary and recognize that there is some degree of genius in the man. Earlier this fall, the outspoken comedian was selected as the commencement speaker for UC Berkeley. Then students incensed by his views on Islam started a petition to have him removed as the speaker. After the student organizing group voted to “disinvite” Maher, the university stood firm and Maher remained. Trust me, Maher is no fan of any religion and has said many tasteless comments about every other religious organization. But if we go about disqualifying commencement speakers because some group may disagree or take offense with his or her point of view, it wouldn’t take long to ban all commencement speakers. Give UC Berkeley some credit for not backing down.

Sometimes the small minds prevail, as in the instance of the faculty and students at Rutgers University. After inviting Condoleeza Rice, the first black, female, Secretary of State, to be the commencement speaker, the faculty and some students raised so much turmoil for the university, the always classy Rice decided to decline her invitation. The protestors objected to Rice’s world view and support of George W. Bush.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, let me introduce Indiana University Southeast. The school has recently come under fire from a group that advocates freedom of speech on campuses, because of a draconian speech code. One stipulation in the code requires that students may only “express opinions” within a free speech zone. That’s right. Do you have an opinion on something you saw or heard. Did President Obama or John Boehner say something to really piss you off? Well, we are going to ask you to keep that radical thought to yourself until you walk across campus to the free speech zone. Only there can you exclaim that political thought. I wish I was kidding.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Left: Because PC is sexual healing

By Ben Tomkins 

I’m an authority of political correctness, because I’m straight and white and I have to be on top of that stuff. We have developed a certain reputation for measuring social divergence in terms of our self-appointed “normalcy.” 

Recently, the resurgent call for political correctness as an acknowledgment of social introspection has come under fire, primarily because it implies two things straight, white people hate more than anything: suggesting that normal isn’t us and that we could stand to update our opinion in this regard. 

Excluding the appalling example of the Washington Redskins, sexuality has probably had the biggest impact on a need for social sensitivity.

Traditional views of male, female or, these days, the inclusion of straight and gay, are no longer sufficiently nuanced to describe what we are realizing is a vast spectrum of human identity and sexuality. I think it’s self-evident (I hope) that calling a transgender person “gay” is, at best, extremely inaccurate.

However, there’s an additional complication when sub-groups adopt pejorative terms to refer to themselves. Genderqueer is a classic example. Genderqueer or “queer” refers to anyone who doesn’t fit into traditional binary gender roles. My friend Danny is a lesbian by gender and sexual preference, but dresses on the boy spectrum. 

Now as a straight, white dude, calling someone “queer” is a little nerve-wracking. If I’m misunderstanding this and I called Danny queer, she’d probably laugh in my face, mercilessly taunt me and say “don’t even try,” or calmly explain it so we can get back to whatever we were doing.

What you can’t assume is that you’re going to get the same reaction from people you’ve never met and won’t know if you’re being a jerk, particularly when you’re addressing large swaths of the population. It’s a fine line. Political correctness is about finding a way to bridge that gap so you can move towards closer ties with the community. 

Eventually, you become free to have conversations like this one with my gay friend Steven:

Me: I saw a wide-angle photograph inside St. Peter’s during a gathering of hundreds of archbishops in their robes. Bernini’s “Baldacchino” is so tall it dwarfs all the priests.

Steven: Dude. That’s GAY …

Me: Not as gay as the burn marks on your face from being smashed into the seat of your gay scooter by your boyfriend.

Steven: You have nice manners for a thief and a LIAR! You know the smell and taste of dwarves, Mr. Baggins.

Me: Oh my god, you are the nerdiest f** in Laketown. 

Steven: I’m not the one who’s into dwarves. 

Me: It’s “little people,” asshole. 

That’s progress. 

Political correctness isn’t bad, just a means to an end. Most people are well-meaning but aren’t aware of how diverse the self-identification spectrum has become. If you don’t get why someone wants to be called something, just go with it. I guarantee that, the more you get to know them, the more you’ll understand why it matters. 

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: Because PC is just plain ridiculous 

By Rob Scott

Political correctness is a term used by some conservatives to describe the attitude or policy of being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have a disadvantage.

The late actor and former National Rifle Association Chairman Charlton Heston said, “Political correctness is tyranny with manners.” Others in history have discussed questionable speech. “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it,” said the famous philosopher Voltaire. 

The theory is if you say the “wrong thing” under political correctness in America today, you could be penalized, fired or even taken to court.

Political correctness is running rampant, and it is absolutely destroying this nation.

In his novel, “1984,” George Orwell imagined a future world where speech was greatly restricted. Orwell called the language the totalitarian state in his novel created “Newspeak,” and it seems eerily similar to the political correctness we see in today’s America.

Newspeak was described in “1984” as “a reduced language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit free thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality and peace. Any form of thought alternative to the party’s construct is classified as thoughtcrime.”

Yes, citizens are not usually being hauled off to prison for what they are saying just yet, but we are heading down that path. The book is not too far off.

Every single day the mainstream media in the United States slams messages about what we should believe and what the political correctness doctrine contains. Most of the time, most Americans quietly fall in line with this unwritten speech code because no one wants to rock the boat or be the trailblazer. In fact, most of the time we enforce this unwritten speech code among each other. Those that would dare to buck the system are finding out that the consequences can be rather severe.

Nationally, there are a number of items under the political correctness banner. There has been a movement to change the name of NFL football team Washington Redskins due to the name potentially being insensitive towards Native Americans. 

Another example is some schools now have a “holiday tree” every year at Christmas, rather than a Christmas tree. In an overly litigious culture, cries of discrimination are often simply an excuse to sue. 

There was a lawyer who sued all of the bars here in New York who had Ladies’ Nights because that was gender discrimination.

Locally, there are also plenty of examples. The recent shooting at the Beavercreek Wal-Mart would be a probable candidate. Or possibly the University of Dayton’s new logo unveiled this year, which looked similar to the words of a particular sexually transmitted disease.

However, an extreme example occurred two years ago at Sinclair Community College. Elizabeth Verzi, the school’s Manager of Construction and Planning, ordered the crew to remove a Men Working sign that she called “sexist.” The crew was told to immediately cease all work until the “sexist sign” was removed. The crew foreman initially thought the request was a joke, and they continued to work on the project. Soon after, another Sinclair employee appeared on site to say that the men needed to stop immediately until the Men Working sign was gone.

Responding to the political correctness fallout, in a written statement, Adam Murka, Sinclair’s Director of Public Information, said, “While it may not have been necessary to stop work, Sinclair stands by its commitment to providing an environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory.”

Yeah, political correctness has gone too far!

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or www.gemcitylaw.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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