Perhaps the most provocative phrase that has gained popularity during my generation is “political correctness.” Very likely, anyone reading this had a visceral reaction to just seeing the words. The phrase has becoming a rallying cry for the right, and something that the left shies away from as much as possible.
Two main thoughts here: First, we need to debunk the idea that political correctness is something that is forced on our society against its collective will. It is not. We still have freedom of speech. Each of us can make the decision to be as PC, or as offensive, as we like. I choose to say African-American instead of using the N-word, and I choose to say “gay” instead of the F-word, not because I am afraid of those words or because I am afraid of the ramifications of using them. I do not use those words in conversation (or in this writing) because those words are offensive to people and I choose to try to treat my fellow human beings with respect. Despite the rhyme we all learned as children, words can hurt, and we need to appreciate that fact.
My second point is that I am not sure we are describing this phenomenon correctly. I do not believe that political correctness is even the right term. It seems to me what we are talking about would be more accurately referred to as “economic correctness.” When Hank Williams Jr. was fired from ESPN in 2011 for comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, it was not because of any urging on the part of the Obama administration. Paula Deen, likewise, had her hit show canceled from the Food Network after evidence was found of her using racial slurs many times in her past. Phil Robertson, the patriarch on A&E’s Duck Dynasty, was suspended from the show in 2013 following negative comments on homosexuality.
None of these events were because of pressure from the White House or any other political figure. These were market-driven choices.
Presidents and members of Congress are public figures, and, as such, often they do make statements about what is going on in the world. But our correctness, and corrections, have very little, if anything, to do with political pressure.
At least, that was true until recently. Last week, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on record as saying that Jemele Hill, an African-American woman who co-hosts a show on ESPN, committed a “fireable offense.” In fairness, it is Sarah’s job to defend one of the most indefensible, and, at the same time, one of the most thin-skinned presidents in our nation’s history. But it is an unprecedented and dangerous step for a senior member of the White House staff to call for the termination of a private firm’s employee.
Perhaps, political correctness is earning its name at last. And perhaps, just this once, I will have to agree with my brothers and sisters on the right who say it has gone too far.