The Role of “PC” in our Evolution as a Group
By Mariamne Paulus
I read an article the other day about how “PC” (political correctness) is stifling free speech. I have sometimes felt that, too, but my stronger sense is that PC is helping to awaken us as a group.
When I was a kid, we used to love jokes that made fun of minority groups, including those we called “sick jokes” which made fun of various handicaps people suffer. I could count the “groups” we made fun of: “Pollacks,” “Hill-billies,” “Dumb Blondes,” “Dirty Mexicans.” I’m sure there were many more.
When I look back on the humor, I see that it was completely impersonal. That is, I never actually knew someone who belonged to the group we were laughing at or about (except that I was a blonde; however, since I never felt “dumb” I didn’t fit the category.) But I recognize that there was a feeling of superiority that went with the humor. There was a big separation between “them” and “us.”
I recognize that most of the time we repeated things we had heard others say without any direct experience that would have resulted in the stereotype. I remember the day when OSO and I were at my mother’s. She was sharing about an experience she had had. She said, “They were Jewing me down.” She stopped mid-sentence, suddenly aware of Arleen, a Jew, sitting at her table. She said, “I never heard that expression before.” She meant she had never been aware where the expression came from or to whom it referred. The irony was that Arleen had never heard the expression either, even though she had grown up with the custom of bargaining, which she could immediately see could be seen as “Jewing” someone down.
I suspect that most of us are unaware of where the jokes or expressions we use so freely come from. They are no doubt based on direct experience, but by the time they become common-place, their original meaning is lost.
We used to do a practice session called “The Joy of Roots and Differences.” One of the exercises was to take an expression commonly used to describe the group to which you belong and claim the nugget of truth in it. I remember one woman saying that she was raised in an Irish family and that the stereotype of drunk Irishmen was true to her experience. She shared that her father was a drunk.
Others shared similar “nuggets of truth” in stereotypes they had heard about their groups. I owned the temptation to play “dumb” in order to win the attention of boys in my high school years. I happened to be blonde and intelligent, but I was often put down for “always getting A’s.” Since I wanted to belong and to be attractive to boys, I was tempted to “play dumb,” and thus fit the stereotype of the dumb blonde. I saw other girls in my class do the same.
Changes in the Culture
I mention all of this by way of sharing my reflections on the issue of “PC” and its role in our culture. It is true that we can’t tell any of those jokes anymore that made fun of other groups. Nor can we casually make reference to other groups by using labels now considered derogatory or offensive. And this does stifle, not so much “free” speech as “unconscious” speech. It serves, I believe, a higher purpose. It is waking us up, making us conscious that there are live human beings to whom those terms or jokes refer. To be awakened like that is startling, if not embarrassing. But it is necessary if we are to live in a culture that respects all people equally.
Not only that, but “PC” forces us to find kinder and more descriptive ways of saying what we want to say. I suspect that a part of Donald Trump’s appeal is that he says whatever comes to mind without monitoring whether it will offend someone. People seem to find that relaxing, comforting. It is the way they would like to continue to speak, not having to take others into consideration or to be conscious before speaking.
But as a group we are awakening to the fact that that is not worthy of us in the diverse culture of which we are a part. We need to find ways to speak of one another that are respectful. We need to stay awake to the fact that we are speaking of real human beings, not stereotyped representatives of groups.
Evolution of Group Consciousness
It is in this light that I feel the attention to Politically Correct speech is really an expression of the evolution of consciousness. We are awakening to our use of language and its effect on others. This can only be good for us as a group. It calls us to listen to ourselves when we speak, to consider how the words we use can affect the ones to which they refer, and to choose kindness and respect over ridicule.
I believe the attention to “PC” speech indicates that as a cultural group we are evolving into a finer state of consciousness, and I am grateful for it.