I don’t get why, as Americans, we have become so terrified of people speaking their minds simply because it may offend someone.
This country has allowed us — all of us — to live our lives generally any way we want. I am sure someone is reading this and commenting that America is not perfect, that there are oppressed and repressed members of our society or that opportunity is not shared equally in this nation. While those things may well all be true, the fact remains that we live in a country where you have the freedom to make that very point as publically and loudly as you like. Our lives are not dictated by a tyrannical leader or an extremist sect that will immolate you, behead you or even parade your lifeless body in a cage simply because you do not share their view of the world. And to be clear, that is a very, very good thing.
However, I fear that we are starting down a road of figurative immolation in this country that is just as dangerous. Any time anyone says anything that is controversial or deemed unacceptable by any particular group, that person is hoisted on a petard via internet shaming, mass protests, calls for the person to be fired, thrown out of the particular group or otherwise punished. We seem to exist in a world where political correctness and the desire to ensure that each person’s “safe space” is not threatened trumps freedom of speech and expression. And to be clear, that is a very, very bad thing.
The freedom of speech and expression is crucial to ensure that minority voices are not silenced and that a multitude of viewpoints, a diversity of ideas and a melting pot of experiences are circulating in this nation. Some of those views will be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic or just plain evil. As repugnant as they may be, we cannot forget that these voices are equally important to the healthy functioning of free and open society.
Open discussion of viewpoints provides opportunity to engage in a national discourse on difficult issues. By way of example, the undergraduate student government at the University of Minnesota rejected a 9/11 remembrance ceremony because it could elicit anti-Islamic rhetoric, and thus, degrade the university’s “safe space.” Ignoring entirely whether or not people have the right to remember and memorialize the Americans that lost their lives on that fateful day, the focus on ensuring a “safe space” robbed the university community of any possibility for a dialogue on this issue. Had anti-Islamic rhetoric bubbled up publically rather than simply simmered under the surface, it could be confronted and discussed. For example, I am sure only a small percentage of Americans understand that the Islamic extremist threat in Iraq, Syria, the Levant, the Horn of Africa and Nigeria, stems from radically fundamentalist sects of Islam, such as Wahhabism and Salafi Jihadism. Furthermore, most Americans are ignorant to the fact that the Muslim world is responsible for creating algebra while Europe languished in the dark ages. Could this discourse have changed the mind of someone who harbored a hatred, dislike or distrust of Muslims? We will never know because the discussion never took place. We were more focused on the perception that all was well than confronting the reality that it is not.
We have become so overly concerned with being politically correct and about avoiding offending anyone that we are unable to actually have a free and open conversation. I believe we are at war with the evils we face in society as well as the evils we face abroad. We should be at war with racism. We should be at war with prejudice of religion and of people of different genders. We should be at war with hatred itself. Unfortunately, a war requires confrontations, and those are never comfortable. They are never safe, and they are messy. But ultimately, they are how change occurs. Without moments that challenge our beliefs, without having to defend everything that you hold to be true, we will be forever imprisoned in this dreadful perception of reality that we find ourselves in today.
ANDREW AMAROSA is a College senior from New York studying international relations. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. This piece first appeared on 34st.com under the title "America and the Epidemic of Political Correctness."Comments powered by Disqus
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