Date: Tue, 21 Nov 1995 14:51:41 -0500


Subject: Re: PC Language

Perhaps the best definition of "political correctness" (as it pertains to

language) is this one from Robert Haiman, president of the Poynter Institute

for Media Studies: "Political correctness is a rigid orthodoxy precluding

the acceptability of any contrary view, which gained such acceptance in any

group that it, in effect, becomes the institutionalized position of that

group. Once that view becomes the politically correct view of that group,

any member who raises a contrary view may be viewed with suspicion, ignored,

shunned, denounced, attacked, or silenced."

Now, in all fairness, I think we should acknowledge that the original

intents of the PC movement were good and honorable. They wanted to end

racism, sexism, ageism, and all the other -isms that were disrepectful (and,

in many cases, inaccurate) toward various groups of people. They should

receive credit, I feel, for bringing about more awareness of the need for

such things as African American studies, women's studies, etc., in college

and university curricula and getting the writers and teachers of history to

rethink their approaches in terms of at least recognizing that all history

was not made by white male Protestants (I know, in my own case, a little

investigation provide me with some very significant and worthwhile material

for my Media History course on non-white, non-male, non-Protestant

journalists who deserved to be studied at least as much as Benjamin Harris

and William Allen White).

Where the PCers went astray, overstepped their bounds, if you will, is when

they moved into the area of performing an "anti-ethnic cleansing" of the

language and created their greatest monster, the speech code, which, sadly,

was adopted on some college and university campuses (and were all dismal

failures, as far as I can tell--I understand the only successful, and

ironic, prosecution of a speech-code case was the conviction of a black

student who called a white student "honky" and "white trash" at the

University of Michigan).

That is where Haiman's definition comes to bear. I'm sure we're all familiar

with the case at Pennsylvania U., where the Jewish student was charged with

something or other for yelling at a group of black students (whose ethnic

identities he did not know, since he could not see them, only hear them

indistinctly) to be quiet so he could study and finished by calling them

"you water buffalo." It was an exquisite example of the ironic flaw in the

idea of PC "speech police" and, I believe, ultimately was dropped (but, at

one point, they were talking about expelling the offending student).

Those cases prompted history professor Elizabeth Fox-Genovese of Emory

University to suggest, appropriately, that PC had eaten its own young: "The

climate (created by PC) has placed liberals, especially liberal

intellectuals--including the members of the media--in a difficult situation,

to which they have not always responded well. Fancying themselves committed

warriors for freedom of expression, they righteously reject the notion that

those whose views they share, much less they themselves, might commit

political correctness. But then, the views of the politically correct are,

more often than not, the views they do share."

Before I launch into an even longer personal treatise on PC, I believe one

of the early posts on this thread wanted to know the name of an expert on

the subject of PC language, speech codes, etc. I would recommend Charles

Calleros at Stanford U., who, while a visiting professor at Arizona State,

drafted that university's code, which, instead of enforcing PC speech,

defended freedom of expression on the campus and set out guidelines for

punishing actual harassment of members of minority groups, women, etc.

Incidentally, I met Calleros at the First Amendment Congress a few years ago

in Richmond, Va., where I participated on a workshop panel that dealt with

this whole idea of language-cleansing. It turned out to be a most

interesting and spirited debate, with plenty of vocal intensity on both

sides (the anti-speech code side won out, and the Congress adopted an

anti-speech code plank in its platform). But the most convincing argument

against such codes, even in the face of minority-group members on the panel

who rightfully noted that the use of ethnic slurs can be most hurtful to the

recipients, came from a man whose name I can't recall right now, who

suggested that all a speech code against hurtful ethnic slurs would

accomplish would be to drive the bigots "underground" and make them harder

to identify and try to deal with.

"David Duke is far more dangerous in a white shirt than he ever was in a

white sheet," was his quite memorable--and accurate--conclusion.

This posting is far more than was asked for--or is probably

appropriate--but, when you get me started on this subject, it is hard for me

to start, since, even though I am one of those flaming liberals leftover

from the '60s, I am not blinded to the essential necessities inherent in the

First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (and, when you get right down to

it, find the extremes of "anti-ethnic cleansing of the language" (i.e.,

dorms to residents hall, cafeteria to dining service, or whatever) absurd.

Jerry Miller

Pulliam School of Journalism

Franklin College (Ind.)

[speaking for only myself, of course, from a small college that has some

tendencies toward using euphemisms instead of the real words but, thank God,

has no speech code]