Young America in the Face of Political Correctness
by Kevin Kelly
Being 27 years old and a recent college grad, I worry about the sort of impression that my fellow young Americans are getting from heavy-handed political correctness. People confuse that for simple decency. They see an issue regarding race where there is none, or very little at best. A racially-inspired joke meant to be lighthearted becomes the subject of a media firestorm.
Take, for instance, the six white high school girls in Arizona who, in a senior picture day stunt, used gold tape on their black t-shirts to form letters spelling “Ni**er” [sic] when they stood together. Was it very poor taste? Yes. Did they deserve to be suspended and have a petition on Change.org with tens of thousands calling for them to be expelled? No, I’d argue not. Look, these girls are still just teenagers, and we all know how wild high school students can be. At my high school it was routine for kids to pull fire alarms. At my graduation one of my fellow seniors streaked after throwing off his robe (though he was still wearing underwear, thank goodness). Should we automatically think that these girls in Arizona have a low opinion of black people? What if a group of black teenagers lined up for a picture with shirts spelling “cracker”?
Incidentally, there’s no such uproar when black comedian Chris Rock jokes that poor whites blame black people for everything, and I myself don’t care. Even white puppeteer Jeff Dunham – who I’m a big fan of by the way – manages to get a pass when he plays on African American stereotypes with his puppet Sweet Daddy Dee. And pop music is peppered with political incorrectness. Just ask Katy Perry how many times she’s referenced Asian stereotypes. She’s gotten plenty of backlash for it, yet millions of fans still love her. If you ask me, it’s ironic though not surprising that popular figures get away with these things easier than the more common folk.
Race, of course, is a hot issue these days between the recent riots inspired by police acquittals, the debate over law enforcement conduct towards minorities and the controversy over the Confederate flag.
To be sure, there have been moments when people’s outrage was reasonable, such as the tragic case of Eric Garner, a black man in New York City killed by over-aggressive policemen over a very trivial crime – illegal cigarette selling. Watching the video from that incident, it seems very clear that there should have been at least an indictment. Indeed that sentiment was profound on both the political left and right. But what about the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in which there was very flimsy evidence of police brutality? Did the acquittal of the Darren Wilson, the white officer involved, merit a brutal and destructive riot? It seems as though the people involved in it simply wanted him indicted whether he was guilty or not.
It’s that sort of pre-determined thinking that leads to sore misjudgment on the part of some in education. A prime example of this is the University of California. Months ago I had come across their microaggressions guide, a PDF document titled “Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send” and used in seminars for faculty training. It lists some rather unbelievable examples of what supposedly constitutes a “microaggression.” See for yourself:
– “America is a melting pot.”
– Someone crosses to the other side of the street to avoid a person of color.
– “America is the land of opportunity.”
– “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”
– Being ignored at a store counter as attention is given to the White customer.
– “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
These are all pretty absurd examples, right? And that’s just a few of them. Apparently at UC, professors are discouraged from saying “America is the land of opportunity” or “Everyone can succeed in this society” to a non-white or a foreigner. Yet opportunity and hope of success are the very reasons that immigrants from all over the world have come to the United States, which does make it a cultural melting pot. As for being ignored at a store counter, it may be because the employees are busy with other customers. I would know from working in retail. And what about when a non-black person is crossing the street to get a burger, and a black person just happens to be there before they cross? Does that really mean that they’re trying to avoid the black person? They do acknowledge, “The context of the relationship and situation is critical.” But if these offend people only in specific circumstances, then it’s probably pointless for them to list these as examples in the first place. If anything, it’s the one taking offense at these situations who should learn to deal with them better. Our academia ought to be setting that sort of model for the students.
Lest we forget, this is the school in which the student council at their Irvine campus voted to remove the American flag – as well as any other national flags – from the campus’ main lobby, although the move was later vetoed. In their resolution, they said basically that flags are too pompous. A few specific mentions of the American flag were made, including this: “Whereas the American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism…” As a former history student, I agree that such events have occurred in our history, so why do I support keeping the American flag up? Because I’d rather be proud of the positives in my nation’s history than forever ashamed of the negatives. The American flag also represents the freedom, opportunity, democratic republican values and tolerance that we possess and deeply treasure. It’s not tolerance if all flags are not tolerated.
So before we call out the Washington Redskins’ team name as being offensive to Native Americans, let’s ask ourselves if the Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish” is much different for Irish Americans like me. The Irish, after all, are not all bar-fighting drunkards. Let’s ask ourselves also if Southerners really treat the Confederate flag as a proud emblem of slavery and segregation rather than a simple display of regional pride. Remember when Apple pulled several of their iTunes Civil War game apps because they had the Confederate flag in them? In that case, it was just there for historical significance. Do we want to blind our young citizens to a historical fact?
As in any discussion, we should be careful of what we say when talking about race and ethnicity. But again we shouldn’t mistake political correctness for decency when it ends up shutting down well-meaning self-expression or honest discussion. Our educational resources should be used to teach young Americans that these are okay, and that they don’t have to be constantly fearful of offending somebody. This is especially important to tell our newest graduates of high school and college.