by Tali Radcliffe
Free speech. Here in the United States, it is taken for granted. Our founding fathers thought it was important that in the new country they were creating, people had the right to speak their minds without repercussions from the government. Many feel the United States is the poster child for free speech. However, in recent times, that cherished right has been threatened. On college campuses and other places across the country, people are being shut down because of their opinions. People are being chastised because they are not using the right words. What am I talking about, you might ask? I am talking about the extreme use of political correctness in our society. Now, for all of you political correctness lovers out there, be warned: this article does not use political correctness to the extreme. I will speak respectfully of others, but I will not be monitoring everything that comes out of my mouth. I am a person who speaks my mind, even if it’s hard to hear. Alright? Great. Let’s begin.
The third edition of Webster’s New College Dictionary defines political correctness as “of relating to, or supporting a program of broad social, political, and educational change, especially to redress historical injustices in matters such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation,” and “being or perceived as being (overly) concerned with such change, especially in the avoidance of giving offense.”
At its foundation, political correctness is good. It’s synonymous with behaving like a decent human being to others. However, when people start to become concerned with monitoring and censoring our actions and everything that comes out of our mouths, I start to draw a line. It is one thing to be a decent human being when conversing with people, but it’s another to take it to the extreme by suppressing people’s speech and actions just because it might offend somebody.
A good example of this is found in an article titled, “College Turns Halloween into Liberal Political Correctness Fest,” written on Breitbart.com, published in October of 2015. It mentioned that some colleges were restricting Halloween costume options that were deemed “politically incorrect,” some examples being hula skirts, afros, and leis. Dressing up as Pocahontas, Pancho Villa, or as a cowboy were also considered no-no’s, in addition to many others. You can see the whole list in the article. Additionally, the article mentions that the only politically correct costumes that did not offend anybody were dressing up as a carrot, a bottle of ketchup or mustard, a tree, or peanut butter and jelly on bread. However, the article retorts by saying even that may offend people who have allergies, or eat gluten-free food. My point in all of this is that you can always offend somebody, no matter how hard you try not to. Therefore, let’s lighten up a little with the restrictions of Halloween costumes, for goodness sake. I get that people are trying to be considerate, but I think this is going a little too extreme.
Never before in my life have I felt timid and scared to voice my opinions as I do today. I am a conservative Christian. My beliefs and opinions usually do not match the majority of students on campus. I avoid talking about anything controversial, which in today’s world constitutes a lot of topics. I do this so I am not yelled at or shut down because of my opinions. I find that trying to keep up with the current political correctness standards exhausting and they prevent me from trying to say what I really mean.
Let me elaborate. For my Statistics class, I had to gather data about the COC student population. As part of the process, I had to conduct a survey. I thought about asking what a student’s gender was, but then decided that was too much work, as the number of gender identification possibilities can be quite large to be inclusive of all, making the question more complicated than I thought it should be. In the end, the gender question was required. I ended up giving four options: male, female, gender-neutral, or prefer not to answer. In my communications class, I did something similar. I had to distribute a survey to my classmates and was required to include gender. I asked, “What is your biological sex: male (XY) or female (XX),” leaving no room for discussion. On one of the surveys that was filled out, one person still asked about gays and lesbians. Your sex and gender are two different entities in this world, today. One is what you are biologically born as, and one is what you identify as, because you can identify as a host of different genders. Just look on Facebook. They have over 50 to choose from.
The extreme use of political correctness, in my opinion, discourages open communication. It prevents us from speaking our minds and having intellectual, thought-provoking, discussions with each other, because we are too preoccupied with avoiding offending someone, instead of having a conversation. According the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)’s website, Ann Coulter, a conservative author, journalist, and lawyer, was disinvited from speaking at college campuses three times as of 2014, because she speaks in a very frank manner that some people can find offensive. With this and her political views, there were three missed opportunities for college students to possibly have heard different sides of issues, different ways of thinking about things. This is concerning. If people are not open to hearing both sides of an argument, then how can we ever hope to accomplish anything?
College of the Canyons has recently hosted deliberative dialogues regarding the gun issue on our campus. I have attended two of them. From what I have experienced and heard, there have been more good exchanges of ideas, opinions, and views than bad ones, even if they differ greatly. To me, it feels like we are actually moving forward and working on finding a solution to the problem. Why can’t we have more of that? There are always going to be people in the world who will offend you, that will rub you the wrong way. I have experienced some of those people. I bet you have too.
But let’s rise above the crutch of “being offended” and instead be open to agreeing to disagree on some issues. It makes life so much more interesting and intellectually vibrant. As one Santa Clarita resident who is a conservative Christian and mom so eloquently puts it, “if people treated each other decently, there would be no need for it. If we opened our minds to differing opinions, then perhaps we can take something from that opinion and make ourselves better with it.” Such a simple concept, yet so powerful and meaningful. Imagine what the world would be if we took her advice. Having our minds open to differing opinions and views of the world can make us better people in the process. The first sentence of our Constitution reads, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” It defines who we are as a nation and as individuals. The extreme use of political correctness has restricted our general welfare to be ourselves and the blessings of liberty to speak our minds without repercussions.
So I ask you, implore you, to take a moment and listen, to open up your mind to the possibility of other ideas and views of this world. That is how this country was started, by people being open to new possibilities. Our country was the first of its kind. Some thought we would not make it. But here we are, over 200 years later, still going strong. Is not our very existence as a nation proof that we can overcome our differences and be united? I ask you, all of you, regardless of your views, opinions, and beliefs, to listen. I ask you to be open to bettering yourself and making yourself a more rounded, intelligent, learned person. If everyone one of us does that, there is no need for political correctness, because we are just being decent, respectful human beings who can converse with each other without being ambivalent. Isn’t that the kind of world you would want to live in? I sure would, and I hope we can start to get along with each other and put the “kind” back in humankind.