Date: Tue, 21 Nov 1995 14:51:41 -0500 From: Jerry Miller 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]