The divide in America today — which we constantly see, hear, feel, and fear — is illustrated and perpetuated in part through “PC culture”. PC (Politically Correct) culture refers to a trending social norm of being politically, socially, and environmentally informed. Microaggressions, for instance, are not tolerated in PC culture, and, if they are overt enough, are typically called out. In essence, PC culture aims to avoid any forms of expression or action, often termed “microaggressions” that further marginalize or insult minority and disadvantaged groups. For instance, a microaggression could range from assuming an Asian person is good at math or a white person clutching their purse when a black or Latino person walks by. A 2019 large-scale national survey of Americans, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” illustrates that those being called out for non-PC statements often feel alienated by “intellectual elitists” who knows the difference between Hispanic, Latinx, and Spanish, or who distinguish between Asian cultures. The study finds that 80% of Americans believe political correctness is an issue. The alienation that some feel due to PC culture furthers the toxic divide between liberals and conservatives in the United States which must be overcome in order to create progress.
Growing ideological divisions within the United States are exemplified by PC culture. PC culture thrives at young, liberal, elitist institutions such as Brown. At the same time, as the Hidden Tribes study illustrates, the majority of Americans believe, as a quoted 53-year-old Texan man asserts, that the ill effects of PC culture include when people are too easily offended and have the attitude of “you can’t offend me, you have to do exactly what I want or I’m offended by you.” Some view the liberal pro-PC culture as hypocritical, as liberals demand their freedom of expressions be respected in some instances, but seemingly infringe upon others’ freedoms of speech and expression when they disallow the expression of what they perceive to be offensive or extremist beliefs.
However, the propagation of discriminatory speech and expression pose a legitimate threat, vindicating the “liberal PC culture” that seemingly infringes on others’ freedoms of speech. When a community or culture tolerates blatant verbal discrimination, that discrimination is perpetuated and aggravated. When discrimination becomes extreme, people grow violent. Online chat rooms and neo-nazi groups exemplify how the aggregation of bigots builds a community which feeds off of one another to amplify discrimination and mobilize violence. Toxic online communities have been linked to the mobilization of white supremacist terrorists by encouraging violence such as through the portrayal of infamous mass shooters as saints. The digital assembly of extremists has motivated terrorists, such as the shooters who attacked New Zealand mosques, Poway synagogue in Southern California, a Pittsburgh synagogue, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Even in non-extremist circles, each time something is said or done in a discriminatory way, it further normalizes the degradation of the discriminated against group, enabling others to also act in prejudiced ways. Because discrimination begets discrimination, legitimate concerns necessitate a politically correct culture.
Politically correct culture is important to raise societal standards of the respect with which groups are treated, and also in order to validate the experiences of those who are being outwardly or implicitly degraded. Microaggressions are commonplace daily indignities which are often perpetrated by people who are unaware they are sending such messages. Nevertheless, microaggressions have significant emotional, cognitive, and behavioral consequences, such as anxiety, depression, anger, and “othering.” Hearing implicit stereotypes about one’s identity in many realms of society over the life course can lead an individual to believe and act in ways which reinforce stereotypes.
Ironically, while minority status individuals are being legitimately alienated by microaggressions, “Hidden Tribes” elucidates that many Americans feel “othered” by PC Culture. The research finds that most believe that PC culture is “not so much genuine concern for social justice as the preening display of cultural superiority.” Those who promote PC culture are generally cosmopolitan, 11% more likely to be white, 12% more likely to make $100,000 or more per year, and twice as likely to have completed college. Political correctness is viewed as a problem in America by Asians (82%), Hispanics (87%), American Indians (88%), and far behind, Whites (79%). “Three-quarters of African Americans oppose political correctness. This means that they are only four percentage points less likely than whites, and only five percentage points less likely than the average, to believe that political correctness is a problem.” When high socioeconomic status people have the loudest indignant voices on issues irrelevant to their identities, those voices can seem they come from a place of disingenuous intellectual elitism.
In order for liberals to effectively communicate and positively perpetuate PC culture, the dialogue needs to come across as more conversational, curious, and honest, and less attacking. PC culture should be perpetuated by the “woke” with understanding and an appreciation for mutually pedagogic opportunities for discourse with new points of view. In the face of microaggressions, ignoring, negating, and avoiding has been researched and proven to be counterproductive. Rather, supporters and perpetrators of PC culture have more success in facilitating difficult dialogue and reaching understanding through a more inclusive approach, or “calling in” compared to one of “calling [someone] out.” More specifically, telling someone that they cannot use a word or say a phrase can seem didactic and condescending, whereas expressing how one’s words may have implicitly sent discriminatory ideologies which lead to hurt and violence can be received with and responded to with less defense and more understanding.
Similarly, non-judgmental and curious tones during such discussions can help disarm those who are afraid that they might say something “wrong” about a sensitive issue. A person can, then, more effectively seek to understand why that person may have engaged in a particular behavior or choice of words, what they were attempting to communicate, and how that communication might have detrimental effects to others. Others can also support the person discussing why they feel a microaggression or non-PC statement has been perpetrated by legitimizing the discussion, validating the participants, and being willing to accept different realities. Throughout more patient and positive dialogue, people may be able to reach a greater consensus on why PC culture is necessary. While valuing PC culture, it is important to remember that it’s trendy to be woke right now, but it’s never in style to degrade another group of people, including those who were not socialized in politically correct culture.