Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, November 1st, 2014.

Please Let’s Retire PC

Obama Administration

I well remember that I first heard the term “political correctness” back in the 1970s used as a kind of self-deprecating joke about the many often clumsy strategies for getting gender and racial bias out of language in academia and leftie activist circles. We had to stop using “men” as a synonym for “the human species,” for example. The suffix -man was replaced with -person — spokesperson, chairperson. This was all exceeding strange at first, and sometimes got silly. Once when I was working in the textbook industry I came across a passage in which “Viking oarsmen” was changed to “Viking oarspersons” (I changed it back). We struggled with the nomenclature for racial and ethnic groups and the physically challenged (a prime PC term). I understand the term “political correctness” was borrowed from communist literature, but I’ve never read much communist literature so I wouldn’t know about that.

But for a long time PC has stopped meaning what it used to mean. It was taken over by the Right as a kind of all-purpose defense against hate speech, as in “you’re just being PC.” The Right actually sees what they think is PC as a kind of censorship, or a strategy by which the Left is trying to silence opposition. If it were, I think we can all agree it doesn’t work. It also seems to me that the Right screams more loudly and more often about language they don’t like than the Left, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Bill Maher’s loudly expressed hate speech against Islam got him dis-invited from speaking at UC Berkeley. I have mixed feelings about the young folks’ proclivities for canceling speech invitations, but it’s their campus, and at least they give a damn. And it’s not as if Bill Maher is not being heard elsewhere. The First Amendment protects your right to speak, but it doesn’t guarantee a venue. Nor does it include protection from disagreement.

At The Atlantic, Peter Beinart isn’t having it, and says political correctness is back. It had left? Well, never mind. Beinert recalls the horrors of the past —

In 1987, the University of Michigan reprimanded students working at the school radio station for broadcasting racially insensitive jokes. In 1990, after Stanford students painted a picture of Beethoven black, and added big lips, the university passed a speech code that prevented “personal vilification of students on the basis of their sex, race, color, handicap, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin.” In 1991, George Mason punished fraternity students for dressing in blackface before being prevented from doing so by a federal judge. In 1993, African-American students at the University of Pennsylvania protested a student columnist’s denunciations of Martin Luther King by dumping 14,000 copies of The Daily Pennsylvanian in the trash. Later that year, Penn tried to punish a white student for yelling “Shut up, you water buffalo” at a group of largely African-American sorority sisters who were making noise outside his window.

Hey, Beinart, I can remember when a thousand paratroopers were deployed to Little Rock so that a handful of African American students could safely attend high school classes. I remember when a U.S. Air Force veteran named James Meredith had to sue the University of Mississippi to be allowed to attend, because he was black. Meredith had to be protected by U.S. Marshalls on campus. The white segregationist riots that accompanied this event resulted in two deaths. Trashing 14,000 copies of the Daily Pennsylvanian isn’t exactly in the same ball park, is it?

The fact is, when you leave academia and get a job you can get fired for racial and gender insensitivity, so you might as well learn to can it while you’re still in college. Much of the Real World doesn’t put up with that crap, either. You’re free to say what you like, but you are not free from the consequences.

Beinart wrings his hands because everybody feels victimized.

Once again, campuses are witnessing a clash of the supposedly victimized. Maher paints himself as a man bravely violating politically correct orthodoxy to tell truths about Islam that many American liberals fear acknowledging. Muslim students on campus want their campuses to be a refuge from what many consider the demonization and persecution of Muslims in post-9/11 America. And once again, the clash is bringing out the worst in both sides.

And it appears students at UC Berkeley chose to stand with their Muslim fellow students and have told Maher to take his bigotry somewhere else, and that’s also an example of free speech in action. Maher has a very public venue for expressing his opinions, and I’m sure other venues are open to him, so his freedom of speech is not being squelched. It could be argued that Maher should have been allowed to speak and that the students who objected to his speech could just not go. But, as I said, it’s their campus, and at least they give a damn.

But my larger point is that “political correctness” wasn’t originally about blatant hate speech, and bigotry is not “politically incorrect.” It’s bigotry.

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