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I support political correctness—not because I come from a marginalized background, but because I am a human being. As a human being I understand the value of political correctness because I am aware of the harm that words can have on a person. I have learned the weight that words can carry.
The annual Leadership Conference for Best Buddies—a charity supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities—was this past weekend, and I reflected on my own time there two years ago. I reveled in the amount of strength and talent that could be found in people with disabilities when given the right spaces to showcase them. After spending so much time defending the humanity of the friends I had grown to love in my school, I finally got a glimpse of the kind of world we could live in. Best Buddies’ goal is to run their organization out of business by creating a world so welcoming and accepting that an organization creating inclusive spaces would no longer be necessary—they would exist naturally all around us.
We tried to create this world at my high school. One important step was the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign my school participated in each year. It was meant to stop the use of the “R” word because, believe it or not, words hurt people.
Throughout the years, the “R” word has developed negative connotations. People use it in place of words like stupid, dumb, ridiculous, crazy, and countless other negative words. This implies that people with intellectual disabilities are all these things. Throughout my years in Best Buddies, I had to see my friends excluded from so many social spaces because of the hostile environment created for them through all the negative views stacked against them. I had to witness the smile fade away from one of my best friend’s face as he told me about the way some of my classmates made him leave their lunch table. The need for a campaign asking people to say, “this person has an intellectual disability,” instead of, “this person is mentally r*******,” became obvious.
Through Best Buddies, I was presented with more appropriate terminology, terminology that defined people by their status as a person and not their disability. Best Buddies gave me my first real introduction to political correctness. It provided me with the proper language to help ensure my friends were being treated with the respect they deserved. Never in a million years would I have thought that being in favor of it was a sign of weakness or coddling. The whole thing is quite reasonable. If something you say makes another person uncomfortable or feel less than others, why would you continue to say it?
If you suddenly saw one child hit another, you wouldn’t yell at the child who was hurt for being upset. You would tell the other child to stop. The same concept applies. “PC culture” is about avoiding verbal abuse, just as people should avoid physical abuse.
Opponents of political correctness argue that it is an attack on free speech. They argue that, in addition to limiting the oppressor by not allowing them to attack others, it also affects the oppressed by preventing them from welcoming different opinions, therefore stunting their capability for intellectual growth.
Why should we welcome opinions that intentionally discredit who we are? Being politically correct doesn’t hurt anyone. You’re not going to feel bad because there haven’t been enough racial slurs yelled at you this week.
It wouldn’t affect a person who will never be on the receiving end of those slurs. But rejecting political correctness does hurt individuals. It’s not just about not liking what we hear because we don’t agree with it. These hateful words are bullets that slowly tear down at our humanity with every shot fired.
The argument that silencing hateful speech would hurt me more because I wouldn’t be able to grow intellectually absolutely baffles me. Do you know what actually has a direct effect on a person’s ability to perform academically? Their mental health. Emotional well-being is the real prerequisite for intellectual growth. Having to listen to hateful slurs because people don’t listen to your calls to end the use of dehumanizing language is what tears it down bit by bit.
Opponents call for educated discussion by asking that all emotional attachment to the issues to be left out. We can’t be objective in issues that deal with our humanity. Anything we could possibly contribute on the topic would be inherently subjective. There is no way to disconnect the two. You can’t leave your identity at the door for what are thought of as purely intellectual discussions.
The disconnect here is that ideas and opinions cannot be held to the same caliber as their negative impact on human lives. I’m not sorry that you feel like you can’t freely express your prejudiced thoughts—not when you want to do so at the expense of another person’s existence.
Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Leverett House.
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