Growing up in Westchester, I always believed that ‘political correctness’ was an invention of bitter conservatives fed up with being called racist for brazenly spouting derogatory slurs. Certain public officials, especially Republican Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump, give the public good reason to believe that the so-called “pc police” exist only in the imagination of the fringe right.
When studying their statements, it becomes clear that they’re only speaking out against political correctness as a way to deflect attention away from their obvious biases.
But now take into account the recent outcry against Meryl Streep. In a promotion of her new film “Suffragette,” the famed actress wore a shirt which read “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
This line was taken directly out of a speech by British women’s suffrage activist Emmeline Pankhurst, whom Streep will be portraying.
At the time, women were little more than slaves; they were expected to be obedient to their husbands who ruled over them as if they were property. They were denied even the most basic political rights and were confined to the home to care for children. However, hordes of shocked fans who couldn’t be bothered to research the historical context of the statement cried “racism”. This is because it’s a lot easier to be outraged than to be intelligent.
But political correctness has become especially prominent at institutions such as Vassar, where it is utilized as a tool for the reinforcement of the privileged position of progressivism that permeates our campus.
We are no longer seeking to encourage tolerance, but rather to force our choice of language onto everyone else. Note that by “choice of language,” I do not mean to imply that we ought to give more leeway in regards to the use of racial or ethnic slurs, but rather that we need to stop being so oversensitive in regards to everything that anyone can possibly find offensive.
Take this real joke that I had considered adding to my a standup routine that I have been developing, “Donald Trump is so in love with himself that he turned narcissism into a sexual orientation.”
There were concerns raised that the joke could be offensive to the LGBTQ+ community. But it’s not a homophobic joke. It’s not hurtful or insulting. It’s not promoting violence or intolerance. But because it so much as includes the words “sexual orientation,” there exists a possibility that it may cause offense. That possibility of a person being offended becomes so problematic that it is unlikely to ever be used during a comedy event.
The issue is that offending one’s viewpoint on campus is the absolute worst thing you can do to a person. I ask the students to recall that a few years ago the administration forced the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union to take down its “Wall of Truth” in defending Israel for being ‘offensive,’ and yet just last year they failed to expel a student that they knew committed sexual assault.
While I’m not suggesting that there is any correlation between these facts (clearly one could not have possibly caused the other), it is not a stretch to suggest that this reflects the administration’s priorities.
Let me also remind the student body that while the “Wall of Truth” was taken down, that same year an “Apartheid Wall” which was put up by anti-Israel activists was not taken down. While the wall did provoke a statement from the campus administration condemning anti-semitism on campus, it is clear that we care more about when offensive context comes from the right than we do when it comes from the left.
The time has come for the student body to demand that Vassar be a space where everyone can feel comfortable voicing their beliefs. This means that we need to stop being so oversensitive.
This means we need to stop looking to be offended. This means we need to realize that being offended isn’t that big a deal. This means that we have to apply the same standards to both liberals and conservatives. This mean that we have to start choosing our battles wisely.
This does not mean that we should be allowed to say whatever comes to mind without fear of social repercussions. I merely ask students to chose their battles. There’s a big difference between Meryl Streep comparing the state of women in 19th century England with slavery and Ben Carson’s insinuation that we shouldn’t have a Muslim president. People are offended by the former because they’re ignorant; people are offended by the latter because they’re not.
Progressivism has become a privileged position at Vassar, and political correctness has become a tool by which the privilege is enforced. Now the time has come for us to check our privilege.