I don't think that means what you think it means...
August 8, 2016 9:43 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to counteract the phrase and philosophy of "I'm so tired of political correctness" or "political correctness has gone too far"?

While at family dinner last night, my brother, a sensitive and generally smart (although very sheltered) man of 24 years... began to lament the current state of "political correctness" (in the context of comedy... but for the purposes of this question, let's cast a wide net.

He's a white male, has never had a friend of color, has had an extremely sheltered life in the basement of my parents, listens to Bill Burr and occasionally drops hints at his feeling of disenfranchisement.

How do I help my brother understand how the phrase "political correctness" is being misused by people like Clint Eastwood to denote discomfort with ceding or acknowledging privilege? How can I address some of his discomfort with political correctness? How do I define it for him to make it useful? How do I show him that it's GOOD to be politically sensitive, even in humor?

He's a good kid - but oooof. Sometimes he's misguided. How do (or can) I re-calibrate him?
posted by Dressed to Kill to Human Relations (27 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
"What does political correctness stop you from saying?"
posted by thefang at 9:49 AM on August 8, 2016 [146 favorites]

I've had the best (still not imperfect, but closer) luck with this when appealing from the position of I am a woman, "do you believe me when I tell you that [sexist thing] hurts me and hurts all women?" Because whereas many people in my family might not personally have friends who are minorities or from a lower socioeco class, they (hopefully) are able to recognize that their daughter/sister/niece/mother is female, trying to live in this world as equal citizens. If you can convince your brother that you're a full human (good luck!), extrapolate from there.

thefang's question is also excellent and one I will now use forever and ever
posted by phunniemee at 9:53 AM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ask him for examples. He might just be repeating a point he's heard others make without having direct contact with the issue in question. He might see things as problems that aren't necessarily problematic. It's easier to talk about specifics.

There are examples out there of "political correctness gone too far"—or perhaps of dogmatism hiding behind political correctness—although probably not what he's referring to.
posted by adamrice at 9:58 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I read a good response on twitter to the whole "everyone's so sensitive nowadays" attitude, which is pretty similar to what you're describing. The person said something like shit has always been offensive, people just didn't have the power or liberty to call you out back then. They do now, and they are finally calling you out.
posted by monologish at 9:58 AM on August 8, 2016 [31 favorites]

I'd refer you to Neil Gaiman on this:
I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”

Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile.

You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.

I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!”
as seen here on his blog.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2016 [92 favorites]

It may seem flip, but I think this comic is one of the most powerful ways of breaking it down simply.

You are allowed to say nearly any "politically incorrect" thing you want. Other people are allowed to be offended, shun you, pull your TV show, etc. No one is saying you aren't allowed to say it, but neither does anyone have to smile and indulge you. If you are upset that other people aren't patting you on the back and saying "your opinion is so right and awesome", then you are the person picking a fight over who gets to say what.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2016 [47 favorites]

I don't know if this experience will help you are not. I was volunteering with someone I didn't know who went off on a political correctness rant. I tried talking about how the use of language changes over time and about who gets to use that language. My polite response was dismissed. She settled on the naming of the Washington Redskins as the perfect example of people trying to control what others call their possessions. After listening some more I asked her if she would feel the same if they were called the Washington Niggers. She shut up.

I find some of the language silly myself. I live in Portland where silliness abounds. And I think poor Mr. Eastwood has dementia.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:04 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ask him if that means you can now tell him what you really think of him? Then tell him what you told us.

As a side note I have an app installed in Chrome that turns the phrase political correctness automatically into the phrase "Treating people with respect" it made this question really difficult to understand at first as I couldn't understand why your brother wouldn't want to treat people with respect. Maybe he needs the same app.
posted by wwax at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2016 [28 favorites]

Here in Berkeley, I had once heard that a group of students objected to a Russian frat being called "Slavic House" because they thought the word "Slavic" had something to do with slaves. Granted, that incident was just clueless hair-trigger misinterpretation (only motivated by political correctness), but maybe it's the sort of thing that OP's brother was talking about?
posted by ambulatorybird at 10:23 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oops, I see I didn't actually answer your question, but I guess you can maybe break down your brother's arguments and see what he's actually objecting to (i.e., is it political correctness itself, or rather that hair trigger attitude that can occur regarding anything), and then respond to that.
posted by ambulatorybird at 10:28 AM on August 8, 2016

Is he happy to be 24 and living in your parents' basement? (To be clear, he might be and I'd have no problem with it if he were.) I don't want to make a false dilemma out of this, but if he's like the younger siblings I know he's railing against political correctness because he feels disenfranchised from the culture in some way; if you take it as read that he's scapegoating "political correctness," or that it doesn't exist, or that he's using it wrong, can you find a way to connecting with him about whatever it is that has made him feel left behind?

My family is politically and culturally very different from me, and trying to change the way they talk and formulate the meaning of their own lives has not been a productive or endearing use of my time; all it seems to do is confirm to them that we're speaking a different language. (And anyway I don't think I owe it to my tribe to proselytize to my family.) They're using political correctness or Benghazi or whatever as at-hand signifiers for something they feel much more strongly and broadly—and that you and I might feel too. But it's hard to challenge somebody's signifiers without it sounding like you're saying "Actually, you have completely misunderstood your experience of your own life."

Me personally—All I really want to do with my family is connect with them and, more selfishly, defuse the most annoying conversations that can stem from either of us reciting some unexamined, untranslated sentence about how bad the world is. I've had the most luck on both fronts just trying to talk them past the phrases and ideas we're not going to agree about through to the feelings that make those ideas so tempting. (Presumably they're doing the same thing to me.)
posted by Polycarp at 10:35 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with asking about specific examples and then having a dialogue about it. There really are some truly silly stories out there (like ambulatorybird mentions...working on a college campus I think I end up hearing a lot of these!). If his example is something truly innocuous like the Slavic House example, I think something along the lines of "Yeah, as a general thing I think it's good to really think about how our words might affect others, but you're right that sometimes people do go overboard or react without really knowing all the facts."

If his example is not innocuous, like "Well, Trump got in trouble for openly mocking a disabled reporter and that's ridiculous," I think trying to encourage empathy can be a good strategy, as in "Well, how do you think the parent of a disabled child might feel to see that?" I also think reflecting the person's words back to them can be helpful, as in "Let me get this straight, are you really arguing for the right to tell jokes about people with disabilities?"
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:37 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

There's a big, big, huge, giant difference between "my rights to say whatever I want to say are being infringed!" and "if I say something that other people don't like, they have the right to respond." Many young white dudes lack a clear understanding of the limits of the first amendment.

This xkcd is a decent summary. For example: when Milo Yiannopoulos got banned from Twitter, that wasn't a first amendment infringement. That was him reaping the consequences of repeated violations of Twitter's terms of service. When he posted on Twitter, he was essentially on someone else's private property, and he spoke there only at their discretion. If you don't like that, you can go start your own version of Twitter. Or you can go to /pol, which is much less popular than Twitter precisely because it's a toxic, unmoderated shitpile of racism and abuse.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 10:48 AM on August 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Came here to post the Neil Gaiman quote. My husband and I do this now when we have conversations with others about political correctness. I say "political correctness really just means treating others with respect. Every time you say "political correctness" I'm going to replace it in my head with "treating others with respect" and it's going to affect my opinion of you."
posted by raisingsand at 11:18 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just tell people I see it as plain old manners only now more people get to work on writing the manners rule book which the old time manners book makers find chafing. And, as with all manners you are welcome to ignore them and people are welcome to find you lacking in manners.
posted by jessamyn at 11:24 AM on August 8, 2016 [19 favorites]

Agree with raisingsand and the other posters about treating others with respect. And you might also refer to the Golden Rule if you think that might help the person understand.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:24 AM on August 8, 2016

"It sounds like you're getting triggered by other groups on the planet destabilising your socially-enabled narcissism. Do you need a safe space?"

(I get so fucked off about eye-rolly assholes who can't stand 'trigger warnings' and 'safe spaces' and yet, this 'political correctness' panic smacks of same.)
posted by honey-barbara at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2016 [21 favorites]

listens to Bill Burr


Is he online a lot? Immersing himself in an echo chamber that rationalizes the disenfrachisement you mention, in the ways you're describing? Seeking out virtual straw people arguments to fuel his internal "debate"?

I think he needs to get out of his bubble and get enfranchised. Mostly via work. Because at work, people often find they need to learn to get along with people they wouldn't choose for their baseball team, and are sometimes surprised that those people challenge their perceptions and turn out to be a ok or even awesome. No guarantee of course, and it's not really their job to deprogram him, but it's possible he might learn to be embarrassed of this kind of talk, at the very least.

(Other than that, I think you fight comedy with comedy, at this point. I have a feeling that right now, obviously or explicitly political comedy might yield the opposite effect to that intended. But comedy that hits a sort of Bill Burr-ish spot on the funny bone, by PoC, women, other minorities, that just makes your brother laugh might help a bit. I am unfamiliar with that part of the funny bone so can't offer specific recs, sorry.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:09 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Sarah Silverman is not totally unproblematic on some issues, but she is the most Burr-like anti-Burr equivalent I can think of right now.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:24 PM on August 8, 2016

Old fogy here. I think the best reaction depends on what triggered the brother's lament. It could be plain old white privilege, or it could be something else. That something else could be either a big thing or a little thing. It could be whining or it could be the result of a thoughtful analysis.

Be that as it may, I don't think it's fair to suggest that the primary use of the phrase "political correctness" is as a dog whistle for anti-diversity, misogynist politics. For me, it was always something like Newspeak in Orwell's 1984, referring ironically to language prescriptions mandated by the belief that if we say the right things, all will be well. At any rate, mostly about language and very little about politics.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:59 PM on August 8, 2016

I also translate "political correctness" as "good manners", i.e. taking care with other people's feelings and trying to demonstrate some sensitivity in my dealings with them. So "it's raging political correctness" is the sort of phrase often bandied about in the tabloids and by people who like to think of themselves as libertarian free spirits, but I like to imagine what sort of responses I'd get if I pointed out that they were actually complaining about simple politeness becoming overwhelming.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:45 PM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ask your brother what political correctness means. Make him come up with a definition. Then you can refute as you see fit, depending on his response.
I was asked not long ago why "people are so goddam p.c. anymore." I answered that it's a way of naming things that is less stinging than in the past; e.g. we don't say "retarded" anymore (well, in my house we do) but "challenged" of some flavor, to respect the basic humanity of the person.
Also, you can remind your brother that there is no thought police, and that his thought balloon can be filled with epithets that might have mind-readers running for a safe space; but his WORDS and ACTIONS towards others are what counts.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:59 PM on August 8, 2016

British stand-up great (& white guy) Stewart Lee has a years-old routine about his frustration with those yowling about "political correctness gone mad." I believe it still floats around on YouTube.

along a similar line as some of the re-phrasings posted above, Lee himself says something like political correctness 'seems to be about an institutionalized politeness at its worst.' the whole bit is a good'un.
posted by cluebucket at 7:09 PM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm totally with you - I've raged about this before myself. Maybe one thing to 'ease' your brother into thinking about this differently is this interview between Bill Maher and Bill Burr. Maher keeps trying to bait Burr into admitting that 'oversensitivity' is ruining comedy and Burr vehemently disagrees. I'm not a huge fan of his but it may be a good discussion point since your brother is arguing about it from a comedy perspective.
posted by thebots at 3:58 AM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Let's say you're in a political-correctness-free safe space with us right now. What would you say to us?"
posted by theorique at 9:29 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend this recent piece from Lindsay Zoladz - Can Millenials Take A Joke? (Or is offensive comedy just outdated?)
posted by naju at 1:55 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

"What does political correctness stop you from saying?"

This is precisely the perfect question because they are never able to answer it. Nobody is stopping anybody from saying anything...they just don't like the fact that there are repercussions.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:09 PM on August 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

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