A WASP’s Guide to Understanding Political Correctness

“Political Correctness” has become something of a dirty word in America. It’s been condemned as thought control, repression of independent thought, reverse discrimination, and so forth. It’s been labeled as the tool of the intellectual liberal elite, and is supposedly used to ensure the liberal elite’s hegemony over “real Americans” for generations to come. But really, it’s none of the above. Political Correctness is something much more subversive.

What’s the Worry?

Let’s take a look at some examples of why folks complain about Political Correctness.

Sports mascots are being changed. This is something that a lot of Americans feel strongly about. We* love our sports teams, and we strongly identify with their logos and mascots. We take pride in supporting the Bengals, or the Packers, or the Wolverines. But we’re being told that certain of our beloved logos and mascots need to be replaced. Team names that make use of Native American imagery are being retired and replaced under pressure from the political correctness movement.

Our holiday traditions are being challenged. We are being told that if we want to celebrate Christmas at (public) school, we must also celebrate, or at least acknowledge, other religious holidays that take place through the course of the year. Further, we must make accommodations for those students who do not wish to participate.

Our very history is being re-written. We’re being asked not to keep using the words “Manifest Destiny” to justify the settlement of the American west by European Americans (and the concurrent general slaughter of Native Americans). We’re being asked to re-examine the supposed greatness of figures like Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson. We’re being asked to think about things that make us uncomfortable.

Our sense of humor is being policed. It’s getting so a person can’t crack a one-liner without being accused of insensitivity. The political correctness movement would have us wipe most humor from our discourse.

We Americans have never liked being told what to think, what to say, or how to behave. We love our freedom of speech so much that we enshrined it in our Constitution. But these politically correct people want to curtail our freedom of speech: they want to stop us from saying things that might offend someone.

Thoughts on Etiquette and Equality

"Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present." – the first of George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour

“Tragedy is when I get a paper cut. Comedy is when you fall down an open manhole and die.” – Mel Brooks

"It is amazing how quickly after independence this ideal [that All men are created equal] was transformed into the assertion, 'I’m just as good as anyone else,' and its more pugnacious refrain, 'Who do you think you are?'" – Judith Martin, Star Spangled Manners

"The defect of equality is that we only desire it with our superiors." – Henry Becque

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and steal bread." – Anatole France

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice." – Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Equality is the public recognition, effectively expressed in institutions and manners, of the principle that an equal degree of attention is due to the needs of all human beings." – Simone Weil

"I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality." – John Randolph

"The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." – Anon. (Often attributed to Samuel Johnson, Ann Landers, et al)

Hang On: Don’t We Already Have Rules for Not Offending People?

Yes. Yes, we do. Those would be the rules of Etiquette. Let’s consider them for a minute.

Rules for behaving properly in company have been codified as far back as ancient Egypt. Etiquette became almost fetishized in the court of Louis XIV. George Washington learned (and copied out) many rules of etiquette in his much quoted Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour. But popular books of etiquette didn’t really make the scene until the 1920s when Miss Emily Post published Etiquette--In Society, In Business, In Politics, and At Home. This bestseller was followed by many imitators, up to and including the Etiquette Grrls’ highly entertaining Things you Need to be Told. Many people have condemned these etiquette manuals as elitist, and the rules of etiquette themselves as phony, pretentious, constraining, and archaic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These books exist as a public service to upwardly mobile members of society who wish to befriend (or at least, not to offend) people who already have made their fortunes. If one studies and practices the rules outlined in Miss Post’s publication, one will never give offence when dealing with people who have been brought up using these rules, and who therefore do not need to consult a book to know how one is expected to behave.

But what are these rules for, exactly? They can seem arbitrary, especially when thinking about the rules for which utensil to use for the salad course. But they’re all about demonstrating to others that you value and respect them. What the rules of etiquette boil down to is this: don’t behave offensively. Try not to make anyone feel like you don’t value or respect them. Don’t treat people with contempt.

The difficulty lies in knowing what is going to be offensive to people you haven’t grown up with, and that’s the difficulty that etiquette books help us overcome. Those various books on etiquette exist so that people without money, status, and power can interact with people who do have money, status, and power, and not offend them by mistake. Handy, right?

So What Does This Have to Do With Political Correctness?

What political correctness really is, when you get down to basics, is the subversive notion that the rules of etiquette apply not only when you’re dealing with people who have money, status, and power but also when you’re dealing with people who do not.

Let me repeat that: the rules of etiquette apply when dealing with people who do not have money, status, or power.

That means that just like you shouldn’t gloat over your coworkers when you get a promotion or a bonus, you also shouldn’t gloat over, say, a whole group of people who have been nearly wiped out by centuries of genocide by taking the trappings of their culture and using them to celebrate, say, a football team.

Just like you wouldn’t push past someone at the coffee shop as if they weren’t there, you oughtn’t pretend that your ancestors are the only people that existed in history.

Just as you wouldn’t belch loudly during your sister’s wedding vows, you oughtn’t disrespect the religious ceremonies or holiday traditions of others.

Just as you wouldn’t tell your best friend that he lost his job because he is lazy, unambitious, and prefers to live off a handout even if you think those things, you oughtn’t assume that all people living at or below the poverty line are lazy, unambitious, and prefer to live off a handout.

Or, more straightforwardly, don’t be a jerk. To anyone.

The Rantings of a Single Male: Losing Patience with Feminism, Political Correctness... and Basically Everything
The Rantings of a Single Male: Losing Patience with Feminism, Political Correctness... and Basically Everything

Most of the people who decry political correctness are people who are suddenly in the uncomfortable position of being told how they must behave toward people who are unlike themselves.

 
The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds
The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds

You mean we ought to be polite to people who aren't like ourselves? That's outrageous! Oppression! Tyrrany! Where's my musket!?

 

Wait a Minute: Why is This a Radical Notion?

It shouldn’t be. But judging by the reaction some people have when you tell them that they’ve said something rude (or offensive), the idea that you don’t get to be rude to people unlike yourself, or people who have less wealth/power/status, is terribly subversive. And this is kind of surprising.

In my experience only, the people who rail the most loudly against the concept of political correctness are the people who profess most loudly to revere our founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence, which asserts the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” If created equal, are not all of us deserving of equal respect? The obvious logical answer is, “Yes.” But people don’t always do what they know to be right. People still make demeaning jokes about people of different ethnic groups, insult people of different sexual orientation, make fun of people of different levels of physical ability, and so on. Why would people—especially those who believe that “all men are created equal”—do this? Well, people like to laugh, and people like to feel superior. Further, people don’t like change, and people don’t like to be bossed around.

The first two are, to borrow a phrase, pretty self-evident. The second two are the reasons why “political correctness” has become controversial.

Up until fairly recently, we WASPs were very firmly in charge of the country. Sure, we had the Civil Rights Act and so on, but if you looked in on a corporate board meeting, or a faculty meeting at a college, or a typical city council, or, well, Congress, you’d see almost all able-bodied white men. In short, almost all wealth, status, and power was in the hands of us WASPs. But now that many women, people of color, disabled people, gay people, and members of other historically marginalized groups have overcome the barriers to them entering such arenas, that is to say, now that many non-WASPs have gotten some status, wealth, and power, we hear about it when a white guy makes some thoughtlessly hurtful comment.

Now think about this: when someone you care about tells you that you’ve offended them, what do you do? You apologize, right? But what is the standard reaction when a gay person, for example, tells a straight person—even one who purports to honor the idea that all men are created equal—that they’ve said something offensive (perhaps using “gay” as a synonym for “stupid”)? Exactly: the straight person usually does not apologize but rather blames the offended party for being “too thin-skinned,” or else claims that “It was just a joke.” The straight person does not want to be told what to do (don’t use “gay” to mean “stupid”), resists the change (It used to be okay to use “gay” for “stupid,” and now it’s not? Forget that!), and doesn't feel that it's necessary to be nice to someone with less wealth, status, or power. But most importantly, for the straight person in this example, the rules of etiquette do not apply to gay people.

This unfortunate and widely held (though rarely expressed) opinion, that a person who looks like the wealthy and powerful needn't be polite to those who do not, may be why there are no popular books of etiquette for those who wish to be polite to historically marginalized groups. One can tell that this opinion is widely held by observing the number of satirical versions of such books in existence.

What Political Correctness Is Not

It is not an attempt to control anybody’s thoughts. You’re free to harbor whatever prejudices you wish. But just as you would not complain about the food when a dinner guest no matter how unpalatable you find it, do not air your prejudices where you will offend people. Thankfully, it is becoming more difficult to tell whether someone, even at an all-WASP gathering, will be offended by racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and so on, so really, you never know if you’re in the company of someone who will be offended by your latest racial joke. Best to be on the safe side and not risk offending anyone.

What Political Correctness Is

Political correctness is the radical notion that the rules of etiquette apply just as much to people who haven't got wealth, status, and power, as they apply to people who do. No more; no less. If you truly believe that “all men are created equal,” then this idea should not be the least bit threatening to you.

*

I’ve used the pronouns we, us, our, you, your, and you’re a lot in this piece. I’ve used them to refer to myself and other white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, American men who speak English as a first language. I’ve even used the phrase “We Americans,” consciously aware that it tacitly excludes folks who aren’t WASPs. This is by design, because face it, guys, it’s we WASPs who need to hear this stuff, think about it, and teach our kids not to perpetuate the bad stuff that our forbears (and maybe even we ourselves) have unthinkingly committed.

I do not mean to exclude people of color, gay people, women, disabled people, non-Christians, non-Americans, or anybody else from the discourse, and welcome comments (especially critical ones!) from everybody.

Etiquette for Asserting Everyone's Right to be Treated With Respect (Warning: one use of the word "@$$")

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Comments 30 comments

lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

I read the first sections and almost stopped. Especially when I read the phrase "manifest destiny" which went way beyond the American west, by the way -- but let's not go there. Thank God, the next section led me to understand the first was setting the stage for a certain sarcasm. Whew! Glad I didn't quit. Good hub. And yes, we should care about the well-being and human dignity of all people. Lynda


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

I'm glad you stuck around, too, Linda! And I hope that the irony in the first sections serves its intended purpose: to keep the folks who most need to hear the message reading long enough to receive it.


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 5 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

The posted video captures the essence of what makes conservatives rightfully angry. It is no one's right to hold anyone accountable of anything unless they are breaking the law, and even then there are levels of action by levels of authority to deal with it.

You make a very reasonable and powerful argument for the validity of political correctness, but it is not an innocent concept like etiquette. There is nothing wrong with etiquette, but political correctness is a social pressure to conform to a certain standard which fuels changes in law. Proper etiquette is concerned about modifying your own behavior while political correctness is concerned about modifying how other people (than yourself) behave.

Part of the problem with PC is that it assumes the worst, such as sports team mascots. I am by no means a fan of any sport, because sports bore me to death. But did the teams that chose names such as Redskins or Cleveland Indians really mean to put down their own mascots? Names like, Vikings, were chosen to intimidate and rally. It means that there was a level of respect for their namesakes.

I do understand the argument that it labels an entire group and some can find it demeaning because it generalizes who they are. But we have to acknowledge that the idea behind it is that Indians and Vikings are fearsome opponents. Being Dutch, should I be offended when someone jokes with me and asks me where my wooden shoes are? Of course not. Am I more than a clog wearing farmer from the lowlands? Of course! But I would have to be out of my mind to think that someone asking me about cheese, wooden shoes or dikes or the red light district really means that that is how they define me.

This is not to say there is no ignorance about other cultures within America, including immigrant culture. But what is the proper way to approach this ignorance? Educate. Political correctness assumes things, including the idea that all conservatives think that if you have a high social standing, you can treat poor people with contempt. I have seen that behavior from those that I know of that are liberals and from conservatives on the general aviation ramp where I work, (speaking of celebrities and high salary CEO's), and just as many on both sides who treat poorer people with respect.

Political Correctness is about focusing on negative behavior and pushing others to conform to standards that aren't universal (like the idea it is okay to expect everyone to accept being lectured about proper etiquette - as in the video, holding others accountable).

One example that drives the point home for me is the labeling of Michael Savage as a, "radio terrorist," by strong voices on the left. The irony here is that they are using inflamed speech that could lead others to action to accuse someone else of using inflamed speech that could lead others to action. It's hypocritical.

To preserve freedom, we should leave the choice to change one's own opinion to the individual and encourage better behavior instead of condemning undesired behavior. Political correctness represents a negative attitude and a drive to forcefully demand change. Generally, extreme measures like negative pressure are not needed. It's better to focus on the positive and lift up the good things rather than trying to push others to conform.

Although your hub certainly created a strong reaction in me, I very much enjoyed reading it, and you helped me to think about PC in a way I never have before. I was almost convinced by your well formed presentment. I do thank you, because now I understand that the drive behind PC is well intentioned (although it seems negative in its approach). It is fair to say that proponents of political correctness believe that inequality undermines our safety and security, and to an extent, I agree. In the South, black people endure greater racism than on the West coast. That might be an example where more extreme measures should be taken.

Voted this up because it is well thought out and convincing. Look forward to reading some more of your work.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

"political correctness is a social pressure to conform to a certain standard"

That's exactly what etiquette is. Political Correctness doesn't (or shouldn't) try to force people not to be rude, but it absolutely pressures people not to be rude.

"It is no one's right to hold anyone accountable of anything unless they are breaking the law,"

I think we're having a disconnect between what we mean by "hold someone accountable."

If someone says something that sounds racist, it's perfectly okay to say, 'Dude, what you said sounded racist.' It lets the person know that you heard their comment, recognized it as racist, and do not approve.

They can say, "I was just joking," you can reply, "Racist jokes aren't funny."

They can say, "I didn't really mean it," and you can reply, "Then why did you say it?" Either they'll agree that they shouldn't have made the comment, or they won't, but they won't still have the luxury of feeling like they can casually make racist-sounding comments without being called on it.

That's the accountability I'm calling for: social pressure not to be rude to entire segments of the population.

Etiquette, too, is about modifying the behavior of others. Every time someone says, "Excuse me, but I believe I was here first," for example, that's trying to modify someone else's behavior. Every time someone says, "I've been waiting for you for half an hour," that's trying to modify someone else's behavior.

As for your point about the Vikings, well, my counter-point would be to ask, "Who chose the name?" If the folks who picked the name are the folks the name alludes to, I don't see how that's a problem.

And there's plenty of middle ground, as we found when The University of Illinois kept the name Illini for their school teams but retired "Chief Iliniwek."

"But what is the proper way to approach this ignorance? Educate."

Exactly. It's entirely possible that the person who made the remark didn't realize that their words had another connotation or that they just never really thought about what they were saying and where it came from.

The fellow in the video, Jay Smooth, has another one about the phrase "No Homo," which started as a shorthand way for the speaker to 'reassure' people that, although he just said something to complement another man, he himself isn't gay. (Thus implying that gay = bad.) Then people started using the phrase ironically, to lampoon the homophobia that spawned it. Jay's conclusion, which I agree with, is that if you're not part of the group that a word or phrase was used to hurt, you don't get to be the one to 'take the word back.'

"Political correctness assumes ... that all conservatives think that if you have a high social standing, you can treat poor people with contempt."

No, not at all. Rather, it doesn't stay quiet when someone does treat poor people (or whole groups of people discriminated against regardless of how wealthy they are) with contempt. The anger-fest starts in one of two places: 1) sometimes the PC proponent goes over-the-top making the assumption (rightly or wrongly) that the speaker means to be racist, and goes in itchin' for a fight. This happens, and it shouldn't, both for reasons of politeness and for the more pragmatic reasons in the video.

2) the speaker takes umbrage at the idea that he said something that sounded racist. Ego rears its head, and because for some reason, some people seem to think that if you apologize that means you /meant/ to be racist, some people will do anything--anything at all--but say, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that was insulting. I won't say it anymore." And they try to blame the argument on the person who was offended in the first place.

And just so it's clear that I'm not trying to set myself up as some kind of paragon of social virtue, I'm sure I'm guilty of such stuff every now and then, too. But I hope that when I do slip, someone will call me on it so I won't do it again.

In any case, I appreciate your kind words in spite of your disagreement with the article, and look forward to more such criticism.


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 5 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

First, thank you for taking the time to consider my comment and respond.

I looked up etiquette in the dictionary to make sure I did not have the wrong idea. Etiquette is a set of rules of acceptable behavior. To me, nowhere in its definition or meaning, is it implied that any social pressure is involved.

You addressed the meaning of political correctness and how it is best used, but to me, calling on others to conform is wrong. Conformity itself is about pushing people to do things a certain way. My suggestion is to be an example of a certain behavior you would like others to emulate, not to tell them they're wrong.

I'm not saying we should never give an opinion, but when we do, we need to realize that we are creating a divide. It is wrong to assume that we have the moral high ground and that it is okay to tell others that it is so without being invited.

You might be wondering how we can share ideas. You and I are walking along and I say, "God, look at that ugly piece of art, must have been made by a liberal." I have offended you, and no one else is involved. You feel it is your duty to correct me. Instead of telling me that I am wrong, "Alex, that is a very prejudicial statement," My suggestion is to say, "Alex, you know I'm a liberal right?" (I'm assuming you are not an independent or a left leaning conservative so forgive me if I'm off base).

I'll say, "yeah, so?" (Frikkin insensitive clod).

"Well my friend, that really bothers me."

From that point on, I am thinking about how you feel about it, and I have several choices. Ignore your point of view, ask more questions about it and give you the opening you need to explain how you see things, or I can choose not to address the issue and just don't make comments that will offend you anymore.

The point is that you give others the choice instead of telling them they are wrong. That, to me, is good etiquette.

When I say that education is the key, I mean that a passive approach is required, not pressure. Invitations work better than ultimatums if you want to preserve an atmosphere of free speech and the right to make your own decisions.

I admit you lost me in the response you gave about my comment that PC assumes rich conservatives mistreat poor people.

On a different issue, I will say that it is kind of funny that people say "gay" in a negative way and don't realize that they are insulting a segment of society. Most of these people claim to open minded about homosexuality (I am not open minded about it) but then don't realize they are insulting the group of people they claim to respect.

I don't think we will see eye to eye on the sports team naming conventions - to me, there should be no middle ground, but I am not that familiar with the details so I won't say anymore on this subject.

I don't know if this comment helps to clarify how in my opinion PC is a negative and intrusive force as opposed to etiquette, but hopefully it will be useful in some way. I think we can agree that we both want to be sensitive to other's feelings and we just apply it differently.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

"To me, nowhere in [etiquette's] definition or meaning, is it implied that any social pressure is involved."

Really? When someone behaves rudely, there's no pressure on them to stop? Nobody shushes the loud buy in the movie theater? Nobody turns away in disgust when someone belches in a restaurant? Tell you what, try doing something rude--cut into a line, fall asleep and snore loudly in church, chew with your mouth open/talk with your mouth full at a deli and see what kind of pressure gets put on you. Pay close attention to the reactions of others.

The pressure we put on each other to be polite also involves exclusion. If you behave rudely at a party, you might not get invited back. Make it a habit, and you won't get invited anywhere, because Word will Get Around.

"My suggestion is to be an example of a certain behavior you would like others to emulate,"

That's a wonderful thing to do, and I agree, but if someone doesn't realize they've said something hurtful, they can't not do it again.

Your example (which, by the way, is an example of social pressure) is a good one, but let me ask you this: suppose you'd said, "God, look at that ugly piece of art, must have been made by a homosexual." I'm not gay, but the statement is still prejudicial and hurtful to gay people. Do I get to call you on it, even though I'm not part of the group that you've (hypothetically) slammed?

"I admit you lost me in the response you gave about my comment that PC assumes rich conservatives mistreat poor people."

Let me try again. Historically, people with wealth/status/power have acted as if it's okay to be rude to people without those things. The PC movement stands up for groups that have little wealth/status/power when someone says or does something rude to them. It doesn't have to be a rich conservative who does or says the thing. It gets the most attention when it's someone famous who gets called on it, because more people are paying attention to them, but it's about the words and actions, not the person who does and says them.

"I will say that it is kind of funny that people say "gay" in a negative way and don't realize that they are insulting a segment of society. Most of these people claim to open minded about homosexuality (I am not open minded about it) but then don't realize they are insulting the group of people they claim to respect."

I agree with you. Some folks also use "retarded" for "bad," and would be horrified to learn that they were slamming an entire segment of society.

"I think we can agree that we both want to be sensitive to other's feelings and we just apply it differently."

Agreed.


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 5 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Oof, I can tell we don't understand each other when it comes to etiquette so I'll leave it be at this point. Thanks so much for trying - I just want to let you know I did read your last comment.

But you did clarify what you meant about well-off persons and how you approach the way they treat people with less status and money. Initially, from what you wrote in the article, I thought you implied that rich conservatives were a special target for reform. Looks like I was wrong. Thanks for explaining that to me.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore

It's not just in the US that political correctness is unpopular...

Jeff, that was very eloquent defence of political correctness, even if I only partly agree with it. There's much I don't like about PC, and I say that even while recognizing your main point - that it's designed to foster the rules of etiquette for ALL. I also acknowledge that PC has been responsible for many positive changes in the way we view things. However, I think there's more to it than that and would argue that the practical application of it is a lot more problematic than your article suggests. One major criticism of it, and I think it has some validity, is that it can have the effect of stymying debate. I've seen it in action - people fearful of criticising an aspect of another culture because all cultures are supposed to be equal -and to criticise would mean aligning yourself with the great white western hegemony.

Another reason I don't like it is that it feeds into identity politics and has a tendency to ghettoize people into groups whether they want to be there or not...."black".." gay" "woman".. where they are often expected to assume the victim role of the oppressed and others to be cast in the guilty role of oppressor.

Who decides what is offensive and disrespectul to any particular group? The wasps? I'll give you a small example of PC in action that happened recently in Aust. A while back a comedy team performed a skit posing as the Jackson Five on TV. Immediately it was condemned as racist by white middle-class intellectuals - the implication being that The jackson Five were members of an identifiable group of oppressed victims who mustn't be satirised. Isn't this condescension? After all, white people are satirised all the time and no-one says a peep. By reacting with this burst of politically correct outrage, it seems to me the righteous politically correct are pressurising us to conform to a political dogma which says you are in this group and you are in that? It's divisive.

It can also be downright silly. Why, for example was it necessary to change the name of our native penguins from Fairy Penguins to Little Penguins, for fear of offending the GLBTI community? I find that absurd.

I don't want others to decide for me what i should or shouldn't find offensive....I don't want be pressured into thinking I *should* be offended. I laughed at the Jackson Five satire (not much -it wasn"t that funny), just as I laughed at the Beatles satire the same comedy team presented a few weeks earlier. Why is it disrespectful to laugh at one and not the other? I can only conclude that the Jackson Five were not being regarded as individuals, as they should have been...rather they were being viewed as a 'minority'. ..that is, they were being pushed into a cultural box.

I do believe in respect for all and not just those with wealth and privilege. I just don't believe wasps, minorities, or anyone else should feel they have to constantly carry their cultural baggage around on their backs.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

"it feeds into identity politics and has a tendency to ghettoize people into groups whether they want to be there or not...."black".." gay" "woman".."

That's a good point, and that's something to be aware of. The whole point is /not/ to stereotype, of course.

Re your example of the Jackson Five parody vs the Beatles parody, I didn't see either, so I have no idea what to think about either of them. If the Jackson Five one was merely making fun of the Jackons' musical style, I don't get what the outrage was about. Did white actors perform it in blackface makeup? If so, I can understand the reaction given the history of blackface makeup and minstrel shows, at least in the US.

As for the "fairy penguins" thing, I would imagine that if the Elfin-Australian community had a problem with it, the change would be warranted. Given that they were named before 'fairy' became a slur for gay men, I don't get the change. (They're still called fairy penguins in the US based on the info at my local zoo, by the way.)

Should people have to constantly carry their cultural baggage? No. But people often load other people up with that baggage without even meaning to, with comments they don't even think about.

Here's a link to a few examples:

http://microaggressions.tumblr.com/


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Jeff,

The Jackson Five parody was actually a political skit.It was primarily making fun of our Labour party.

"Did white actors perform it in blackface makeup?"

Thinking about it, that was really the source of the outrage. Yet it wasn't black-face in an offensive *black and white minstrel* style...just dark make-up. How else is a black band to be portrayed? It's on youtube if want to take a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNV7JrGNmTo

I looked at the link..I know, people do burden others with cultural baggage. Political correctness has made most of us more conscious of that, so yes, that's been a positive.

Cheers


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Wow, Jeff

I admire you for tackling such a controversial topic in a Hub. If I were to undertake such a challenge, I think I would be writing until Christmas...2026!

Political correctness for me is one of the ugliest phrases in the English language. Here in the UK, centuries of traditions and harmless ways of life are being undermined by the thought police who propagate this philosophy.

For me, political correctness is nothing less than the bastard child of Orwell's, "1984," and Huxley's, "Brave New World." It is a cancer in the very fabric of society, gnawing away at and mercilessly consuming inherent values and common sensibilities to an extent that Fascism and Communism only ever dreamed of. Instead of building bridges, political correctness creates divides, causes friction and highlights diversities which were never even noticed before. It is the ultimate cause of political and social unrest in the Western World today, as it attempts to tell people not only what to say or do but what to think!

It is my belief that 95% of the population of the Western World despise political correctness. Of the 5% who profess to believe in it, 95% of them do so only because they see it as the, "In," thing - perhaps a way of furthering their careers, particularly if they are in the political field in any sense. The small minority who do genuinely do, "Believe," in it? They are as dangerous a group of people as the world has ever seen.

One final thought with regard to political correctness: if the proponents of it are so convinced of ite merits, they should bow to the wishes of the majority and bury their vile thoughts, theories and philosophies in the theoretical cess-pit where they belong...

Best wishes,

Gordon


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Gordon, I can tell that you have strong feelings on this subject. Tell me, can you give me an example of a harmless tradition that has been undermined as a result of political correctness?

Thanks.

JB


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RachaelLefler 5 years ago from Illinois

This was truly amazing. Going into it, I thought, oh God, here's another old fashioned, pompous, condescending, opinionated republican privileged suburban white dude, and I love how you flipped it around! :) Yes. Manners being applied to people without wealth or status! What a radical idea! An idea, by the way, we have in part or mostly thanks to the Jesus these people pretend to follow!


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RachaelLefler 5 years ago from Illinois

It's simply that Americans in general hate/resent being polite and will use any justification to sidestep basic manners in any situation, regardless of political side.


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RachaelLefler 5 years ago from Illinois

Hate to sound like I'm shamelessly self-promoting but, read my hub on Bushido! If only Americans could use that as an example. And I think it's interesting that, while it was written for the upper class, the bushido code does not advocate rudeness to anyone even if they are a lower station then yourself. At the time this was written it was quite radical. (Maybe not for Japan, I'm not quite sure what was customary at that exact place and time, but compared to what they were doing in Europe when it would've been almost enforceable law that aristocrats had to be dicks to merchants, servants and peasants)


MotleyDragon profile image

MotleyDragon 5 years ago from The Heartland

Jeff, I agree with some of what you have written here. But I have to say, during the reading of the article itself, and even moreso in reading the comments, it looks very much as if what you are espousing is an aggressive, in-your-face brand of PC. I draw attention to your comments to Alexander Mark, where you explain how one should address a 'racist' remark. You said,

"If someone says something that *sounds racist,* (EMPHASIS MINE) it's perfectly okay to say, 'Dude, what you said sounded racist.' It lets the person know that you heard their comment, recognized it as racist, and do not approve.

They can say, "I was just joking," you can reply, "Racist jokes aren't funny."

They can say, "I didn't really mean it," and you can reply, "Then why did you say it?" Either they'll agree that they shouldn't have made the comment, or they won't, but they won't still have the luxury of feeling like they can casually make racist-sounding comments without being called on it.

That's the accountability I'm calling for: social pressure not to be rude to entire segments of the population."

Realizing this is a long cut-away, but I needed all of it to make a couple of salient points. You say that you are n favor of "social pressure not to be rude," but have you not, in your attempt to 'correct' the person in your scenario, been a bit rude yourself? First of all, there are many shades of racism, to use a single social phenomenon. What one person views as blatant racism another might not. Is it OK to be rude yourself, to go beyond merely making your point and into actively scolding, when someone says something that makes you uncomfortable? Are we all to be held captive to constantly second-guessing how our comments may sound to another?

Let me share a personal experience. In the course of an innocent conversation I used the term "white bread." I was immediately called on it by one of the participants and told it was a 'racist' term, and that they were offended. Now, actually it is not a race term at all; despite the fact that it has the word 'white' in it, it has nothing to do with race, it refers to something boring or ordinary, as in, that car is so white-bread. However, the affronted person insisted I should apologize for 'slighting her race.' How should I have responded? I could have been catty, and used the opportunity to deride her for her ignorance and her over sensitivity to imagined slight, but that would have truly been rude. Others in the group responded that they understood the term to mean bland and conventional, not racial at all, but the woman was not appeased. So, in the interests of not 'being rude' and making others uncomfortable, what was the proper response here? If I am to be guided by what you seem to be saying above, my only possible response is an abject apology for something I did not do, which is to deliberately offend someone with a deliberately racist remark. In your example, you are not satisfied to merely point out that the comment is racist, you continue to belabor the point until your 'adversary' is forced to either concede that he has behaved churlishly or lapse into injured silence. That is not a conversation, and it isn't even teaching; it is not a debate without recognizing that the person you are talking to might have a valid point. What it is, is a diatribe. And most teachers will tell you that humiliating someone is not an effective teaching tool. It might prevent them from discussing sensitive topics in front of you again, but it might just as well prevent them from talking to you at all again. And if it is rude to be hurtful in a racial way, is it not just as wrong to be hurtful in a sanctimonious, I'm-right-and-you're-a-racist-AH kind of way?

I assure you that social gaffes receive plenty of negative reinforcement, even when they only exist in the imagination of the 'victim.' And it is this 'victim' aspect of the PC phenomenon that bothers me the most. In the example you give above, there is no option for someone whose comment may have *sounded* racist but in fact was not. Nor for the person who did not intend their comment in a racial way but you took it there. It is as if ONLY THE OFFENDED get the right to demand social adherence to their narrow position. And I am sorry but what if I find *that* kind of position to be rude and offensive on its face? Whose sensibilities get to trump, here?

I also find the arguments about racially sensitive team names to be a tempest in a teapot. I get really exasperated with people who have nothing better to do with their time than be 'victimized' by every usage of a cultural stereotype. As Alexander Mark points out, people do not name sports teams after things that are weak or lacking in respect; with apologies to George Carlin there is no team dubbed the "Minnesota Mice" but there are the Atlanta Braves. BRAVES, meaning fierce fighters, warriors. Is the artwork 'demeaning' to Native Americans? Well, I am Cherokee and I find it amusing, not personally humiliating. I am also part Irish, should I be offended by the Notre Dame symbology; to wit, are all Irishmen pugnacious drunken leprechauns? I think not, yet most of Irish descent love the little guy with his dukes up, daring all comers. Are the Irish, as a group, less sensitive, and what does that say for the other 'victims' of social stereotyping? If we are to eschew racial stereotyping as 'offensive,' must we not also dispense with the Minnesota Vikings (declaring those of Nordic descent to be hairy barbarians;) the many various Pirates and Buccaneers, (as insulting to mariners;) the LA Angels and the New Orleans Saints (offensive to non-Judeo-Christians;) and conversely, Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic (as offensive to certain Judeo-Christians who liken 'magic' to Satanism;) the the NY Yankees (offensive to Southerners;) the Milwaukee Brewers (offensive to the tee-totalers amongst us;) and the list goes on. (Are the Green Bay Packers insulting to homosexuals...?)

You begin to find language a political minefield, increasingly difficult to maneuver without managing to 'victimize' someone. And why stop with language? While we are at it, let's outlaw cartooning since it engages in broad stereotyping and caricaturization of cultural norms. Outlaw comedy clubs while you are at it, because precious few comedians will be able to perform if they are never, ever, to engage in poking fun at race, sex, etc. because someone might be offended.

My take on the PC phenomenon is that it is largely driven by people anxious to be victimized. And, there is a distinct difference between behaving with decorum and following rules of etiquette, versus being constrained by the ever-increasing cacophony of PC which attempts not to guide, but to control. The moment etiquette becomes mandatory it becomes oppression.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

"You say that you are n favor of "social pressure not to be rude," but have you not, in your attempt to 'correct' the person in your scenario, been a bit rude yourself?"

Not yet. If someone makes a comment that sounds racist, it's not rude to say, "Dude, that sounded racist," any more than if someone makes a comment that's insulting to me personally, responding, "Dude, that sounded insulting."

What happens next will depend on the speaker's intentions. If he says, "It wasn't racist at all, and here's why," (like your white-bread example) then the "that sounded racist guy" needs to say, "Oh, I see. Sorry." If the original speaker says, "I was only joking," though, that does nothing to say that the statement wasn't a racist one; in fact, in acknowledges that the statement was a racist one, but it's somehow okay, since the speaker was 'only joking.'

There was an incident some years ago when a public official used the word 'niggardly' (an archaic term meaning 'stingy' or 'the opposite of generous,' and having nothing to do with the racial slur it unfortunately sounds like). A bunch of people got all bent out of shape about this usage. Once the guy explained the meaning and etymology of 'niggardly,' folks should have calmed down, since no offense was intended, it wasn't brushed off as "just a joke" (which is really shorthand for "I know this is an offensive comment, but it's also funny, and being funny is more important to me than being polite to people who are different") and it was explained what the word actually means. In such situations, if the person who says "That sounded racist" doesn't realize that he was taking offense where none was intended and say so, then yes, /he's/ being rude.

"And if it is rude to be hurtful in a racial way, is it not just as wrong to be hurtful in a sanctimonious, I'm-right-and-you're-a-racist-AH kind of way?"

It's rude to call someone a racist, just as it's rude to call someone any other mean name, and I have never advocated calling someone a racist. It's counterproductive. It's the "what they are" conversation that the guy in the video warns us not to have.

The "what they said" conversation is the one you want to have, and it makes no conclusions about whether the person did or didn't mean for his comment to be a racist one. It gives the speaker an opportunity to disavow racism or explain why his comment wasn't really a racist one. It also gives the speaker an opportunity to pretend that racism isn't a problem by saying "It was just a joke."

"My take on the PC phenomenon is that it is largely driven by people anxious to be victimized."

Rather, it's driven by people who have spent a long time being actually victimized, and are tired of it. It's true that in many places it's been co-opted by people looking to find offense in any innocent expression, but you get jerks in any movement, just like you get jerks in the anti-PC backlash movement who assert (and loudly exercise) their right to be rude to people who don't look like themselves.

"While we are at it, let's outlaw...." I don't think I advocated passing any laws to enforce etiquette. And I reject the assertion that etiquette is inherently different from the core of PC. The only real difference is that some believe that etiquette only applies to a certain segment of society and it's okay to be rude to the 'other people.' PC reminds us that it's important to be polite not only to the people who have wealth, power, and status (and those who look like them), but also to those who don't. Sure, there are jerks who use PC as an excuse to be rude, just as there are etiquette police who use etiquette as an excuse to be rude. That doesn't mean that etiquette is wrong, or oppressive, or un-American.


Motleydragon 5 years ago

I just now got your response to this when I was cleaning out my email files. Thank you for your clarification, I agree, again with most of what you have said. We will have to agree to disagree about the motives of many in the PC movement, perhaps I am simply less sensitive than others but I get really tired of people who get their panties in a wad over other's perceived 'insults.' I take the position that unless I am SURE someone leveled a genuine insult AT me, and MEANT it, I'm just not interested in pursuing it. Life is too short and there are too many out there who need to be schooled to waste effort on those who do it out of ignorance. Maybe saying, hey, I resemble that remark, with a smile, such as people who use the term 'trailer trash' or 'red neck' as pejoratives, but in most cases that is enough to let them know they have strayed into sensitive territory, and most people will rush to apologize when they realize they have offended. I do agree with your statement about someone who says 'I was only kidding,' and I do agree with the idea that this is shorthand for 'I realize it was insensitive but I think it's funny and my amusement trumps your discomfort.' And I agree it is rightful to call them on it, too. So, actually, we are not all that far apart on the issue; I just choose not to be upset unless it is worth getting my Irish up. ;)


wba108@yahoo.com profile image

wba108@yahoo.com 5 years ago from upstate, NY

JB- My problem with political correctness is to make being a jerk illegal. Because it gives government police power to enforce a code of ethics that favor the values of one political group, namely the liberals. I don't argue that some of behavior encouraged by political correctness is good but i don't think it wise to empower the federal government to make these kind of personal moral decisions. The reason is that the power given over in these circumstances are to easy to abuse for political gain or other reasons.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Oh, I agree with half of your sentiment: I'd never want to codify etiquette of any kind into law. We have to enforce it on each other through social pressure. If someone consistently acts like a jerk, people will eventually start to shun him. But I don't see how condemning people who act like jerks favors any political group. Maybe some think it's a liberal thing because it's chiefly liberals who condemn rude behavior to minority groups?


mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 5 years ago

Oh you're good. Loved reading this. Hilarious actually. Offense is a tough one. Strange thing is, part of what makes it hard is that offense is in the eye of the beholder. So for some, it's tough to see that what they are saying is offensive. Unfortunately, if I'm correct, the typical response to any type of feedback or criticism for many people is not to apologize, to change behavior, or anything remotely like that. No, it's to be defensive. To complain about the complainer.

I'm socially impaired myself, but hopefully I am rarely insensitive to those who are without wealth, status, or power.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hello, mulberry1, thanks for the kind words! Yes, you're right--when someone gets negative feedback, the typical response is not to apologize but to get defensive. That's natural (and easy); nobody likes to think of themselves as rude or prejudiced. But it's better (and harder) to think, "Hang on--/did/ I say something rude? /Did/ I make a prejudiced comment without meaning to?"

It's hard to do that. Maybe that's why so many people assert that it's better to do what's easy.


Quinoat 4 years ago

I dont know if you have picked the best comparison. My mother made me take etiquette classes. One of the important lessons was being gracious, meaning you do not correct or bring attention to someone's poor manners or social gaffes. For example, if a gentleman uses his demitasse spoon to eat his dessert you do not correct him. However, if he asks you what spoon to use, you of course, graciously inform him. Thus, one would need to wait for someone to ask if something is racist or classist or gender/ sexual orientation insensitive before issuing a statement of correction. I do not always have good manners ;)


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Quinoat,

Yes, being gracious is important, however, being gracious does not require one to sit silently by when someone insults one's friends, one's family, one's faith, or one's self.


americababy profile image

americababy 4 years ago

I treat everyone like they are below me regardless of their social status. I'm offended by irrational rudeness that wastes my time because it costs money. If you're gay and are offended by the word gay being said then it's more of an issue with them. I totally disagree with this article because you were not able to pull it all toghether to be convincing enough. You are never going to be accepted for what you are in this world in your lifetime. I mean that for everyone.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, AB, thanks for stopping by.

"If you're gay and are offended by the word gay being said"

Nobody gets offended by the word 'gay' merely being said. What is offensive and rude is using the word 'gay' to mean 'stupid' or 'bad,' thus implying that gay people are inherently bad.

"You are never going to be accepted for what you are in this world in your lifetime."

Perhaps not by you. Luckily, I am free to choose with whom to associate, and I choose to associate with those who treat me with courtesy, and not to associate with those who behave rudely.


americababy profile image

americababy 4 years ago

My point was that people want freedom in what they say and that makes them like you and less likely to be a future source of discrimination to someone. People tend to increase the things that irritate other people if those people get offended. This is especially true if what they percieve as minor is blown out of proportion by someone. When someone uses the word "gay" or "retard" in a context that is insensitive they aren't doing it to offend anyone. Trying to take away their freedom for political correctness make them even more adament in defending their uses of words. Anyway when I said that "no one will accept you" I mean in general. You could be the richest most successful straight white guy in the world and someone will find a reason to hate you. People are competitive so there is a tendency to try to knock people down a notch unless they aren't viewed as competition. For example someone like Scarlet Johanson is ignored by guys as a target because most men find her extremely sexy. I bet women hate her just for being good looking. They keep that hate to themselves because she hasn't really given them a reason to express it. That's why people advocate getting a thicker skin. You can try to influence society to be more sensitive but it's impossible to win true loyality and admiration through social pressure. It's much easier to be likable.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

"People tend to increase the things that irritate other people if those people get offended."

People who care about others do not do this.

Consider: your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband says something that really stings. You tell him/her that he/she hurt your feelings. What would you rather hear?

a) It was a joke--get over it.

b) I can say what I want--it's a free country.

c) I'm sorry--I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, and I won't say that again.

"When someone uses the word 'gay' or 'retard' in a context that is insensitive they aren't doing it to offend anyone."

Perhaps not, but on purpose or no, they're still offending people. Likewise, if I bump into someone and spill their drink, I didn't do it to be rude. But I still must apologize. If I don't, then I /am/ being rude. And even if I do apologize, if I keep gesturing heedlessly and spill the guy's drink again, the message I send is that my need to gesture is more important than his right to enjoy his drink in peace.

"Trying to take away their freedom for political correctness make them even more adament in defending their uses of words."

Nobody is trying to take away anybody's freedom. I do not advocate censorship in any form. I do, however, advocate holding people accountable for their words.

"People are competitive so there is a tendency to try to knock people down a notch unless they aren't viewed as competition."

Sounds like an excuse for rudeness to me.

"it's impossible to win true loyality and admiration through social pressure."

I agree with this, but I'm not trying to win loyalty or admiration. I'm merely working for a world in which it's equally important to be polite to those with no wealth, status, or power as it is to be polite to those who have them.

Slowly, we're getting there. I've noticed that many articles about dating advise people to note how their date treats the server at the restaurant, indicating social pressure to be polite to all, not just the wealthy and powerful, or those who look like them.

Social pressure is a powerful thing, for good or ill.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 3 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Being frank and honest is not the antithesis of political correctness as conservatives would have us believe. Why do we avoid using “aint’ in formal correspondence? Why do I avoid people that lace their conversation with four letter expletives at the checkout counter? These people reveal disrespect, recklessness, a certain abandonment and lack of self control, etc. Would I take such a person seriously? Probably not. And, I have not even had the opportunity to meet this person and I have already formed negative opinions about him or her. I don’t want to reveal to others that I am incapable of properly using the “King’s English” when applying for a job as a copywriter. What impression would that make to my employer, what else am I lazy or slipshod regarding? It is true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Frank and forthright dialogue need not be insensitive and inconsiderate of others. When invited to a friend place of worship, if I wore cut offs and dirty sneakers, what message am I sending to those in their Sunday best who want to present themselves at their best before the God that they worship. Am I mocking those assembled and their aspiration with my appearance, although I did not say a word?

Look at Donald Trump, there is a prime example of people who think their wealth is a license to abuse people and be disrespectful, that extending even to office of the President of the United States. So where are your manners, because manners matter?

I, in my experience, have encountered many situations where Anglos take liberties, making assumptions about my level of civility basically believing that they can lower the ‘standard’ a notch or two, saying things to you that they would not dare say among their own. There are differing standards of ‘familiarity’ among families and close friends as oppose to those you don’t know. As you say, discretion is the better part of valor as it is polite to avoid needlessly offending.

Great article, Jeff, thanks for the invitation to have a look….


Justsilvie 3 years ago

Excellent Hub! Voted up and shared!

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