Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, April 27, 2018

How using offensive language has become mainstream

Julia Gagnon

I have always hated the phrase “political correctness,” not because of the values and ideas for which it stands, but because of the negative connotation that has been unrightfully inserted into its foundation. This phrase has come to imply that sensitivity surrounding words is a political statement shrouded in weakness rather than the act of recognizing, respecting and humanizing people - people whose existences are often overlooked and who are all too often told that they hold no value socially, politically or economically.

It has always been a popular counter-rhetoric to challenge “PC culture.” Conservative figures like Milo Yiannopoulos have been bold in their remarks which reject and directly conflict with the ideals of mutual respect which are integral to “PC culture”. For Yiannopoulos and other figures like him, their words and statements hold an urgency. To them, political correctness allegedly blocks their right to exercise free speech. Despite being reprimanded and sometimes punished for offensive comments, such as Milo’s recent ban from Twitter after he and his followers directed sexist and racist tweets toward actress Leslie Jones, the blame for such events is placed on the alleged “detrimental” effects of safe zones and sensitivity.

The dialogue surrounding this conservative rhetoric includes the ideas that safe spaces, trigger warnings and sensitivity surrounding certain words is essentially a way for people to avoid debate or confrontation when discussing issues. However, recently, the idea of rejecting PC culture has steered in the direction of mainstreaming offensiveness. I am not referring to the rejection of listening to differing viewpoints or an unwillingness to debate. In fact, these aspects of political discourse are heightened when two groups engaging with each other take on a level of mutual respect and understanding. I am referring, however, to the current narrative pushed by political figures like presidential candidate Donald Trump.

It seems as though each week a new scandal manifests from a blatantly ignorant comment, creating new waves through the nation. But is it really a scandal? Trump’s comments hold a shock value that is meant to provoke and evoke strong emotions; yet, his clear disregard for large portions of the U.S. population does not seem to deter his supporters. He even said himself that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and [he] wouldn’t lose voters.” This rhetoric stands for more than simply challenging PC culture. It has tapped into something far more dangerous: the white plight.

In many aspects, blatant bigotry has become socially unacceptable. It’s not cool to call a woman a “fat pig” or refer to a large portion of the U.S. immigrant population as “rapists and murderers” at a dinner party. However, now the Eurocentric sorrows are trying to demand a place at the forefront of the political agenda. Many white people are angry and scared of groups of people who threaten a system built upon white privilege. Although these people hold no social, political or economic power over them, many white people want to express their desire to keep this system intact and want to do so without fear of judgment.

Donald Trump has taken the shock value off these offensive statements so that his supporters can feel comfortable spouting his narrative. The blatant ignorance that was once deemed socially unacceptable, the words never uttered beyond the safety of closed doors, have now become the popular counter-rhetoric infused in the current political discussion. Bigotry has become the unpopular opinion that its supporters endorse with no shame because their hate is finally being validated.

Bigoted mindsets have always remained stitched into the patterns of social movements in America. Progress has been made but it is hard to alter hate that is institutionalized. The mainstreaming of this hate is telling of the resentment and distrust hidden beneath the surface of progress. It is loud and it is demanding. This is not simply rejecting PC culture, nor should it be accepted as conservative rhetoric. The conversation no longer revolves around the right to exercise free speech. It exists in a realm of life and death, of hate and love and of freedom and oppression.

Julia Gagnon is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs.

jgagnon@theeagleonline.com


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