Sociolinguistics Series: Part 20
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Politics and Activism

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 20

Language is a powerful tool.

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 20
Peninsula Tea Party

Hello there! I hope that, in your lives, you’ve found more meaning in language, whether that be through variety, style, or content. I wanted to do something a little different with this week’s section; that is, I wanted to share an editorial I had written for my school newspaper.

Recently, a student in my community committed an act of racism by painting his face with dark-colored makeup; photos of this were posted on social media, and the general public took it as “blackface.” His intentions didn’t seem malicious, but the rest the community definitely took them as such. Merely a few days after the event, however, the subject began to become “taboo,” especially if one was trying to talk about it on a public platform like social media.

That got me thinking: since when did “political correctness” become “political silence?”

We’ve become so scared of offending others with the content of our language that we have stopped using it for one of its more important purposes: making people think. I believe that discussions are so, so crucial to the solving of any issue. Surely, an issue as large as ignorance -- or racism -- should be addressed greatly; this would allow those uninformed to become more knowledgeable on many controversial subjects.

Anyway, like I said, I wrote an editorial on this matter for my school newspaper. More specifically, it was about the subtle censorship of what comes out of our mouths. We have seen how Trump’s word ban is a blatantly obvious effort to cover our language content, but the more virulent issue lies with the censorship that we all seem to endorse and embrace: political correctness.

Below is the editorial.

'Imagine if upon growing up we all received the superpowers we wished for as children. Some of us would have the ability to turn invisible, others would soar in the sky on their morning commute, and maybe a few would have unfathomable strength.

The truth is this: we already have a superpower. It was given to us as our first cries entered the world: a voice.

Just like any other superpower, we must learn the handling, use, and potential of our voices. When a voice is used with good intentions, society changes for the better; revolutions like #MeToo and the Civil Rights Movement all started because of a voice.

However, the way we use our voices can also cause harm. With a superpower as strong as a voice, abuse and corruption are inevitable. Where do we draw the line between a benevolent voice and a malicious voice?

Growing up, we are taught to be “politically correct,” but what does that term even mean?

The meaning of “political correctness” has been manipulated and changed many times to hurt different groups of people. The oldest sense of the phrase came from a 1793 Supreme Court ruling, in which being “politically correct” was defined as the use of language in a way that will not offend any group of people.

The intention of this label was for people to not use language in a derogatory manner, but the term has strayed far from its original goal. It has been used to target groups of people who have views on each end of the political spectrum; everything from conservative positions to liberal ones -- to all spots in between -- has been accused of being politically incorrect at some point in history.

Today, political correctness seems to be an issue of comfort. In an attempt to tame our superpower, we have often had to hide “politically incorrect” topics. In fact, a Harvard Law student once said that “political correctness is tyranny with manners.”

These taboos include rape, abortion, gun control, the wage gap, racial discrimination, sexuality, gender identity, and more. Uncomfortable yet? We’re just getting started.

Our voices are politically incorrect, and they will not be silenced, or even dulled.

The purpose of a voice is to inspire another voice, whether in a discussion or a debate -- even a heated argument. Glossing over controversial subjects won’t deny the fact that those uncomfortable situations exist; being “politically correct” won’t make the world “politically right.”

Sometimes, the offensive subjects need to be put out there; they may need to be said. With the utterance of such politically incorrect topics, society can start to have crucial conversations.

When instances of ignorance and racism occur, we should not rely on “political correctness” to cover up our actions. There have been many cases all over the country of students committing acts of racism.

These students are sometimes nearly excused with the argument that they did not intend to be racist -- that they didn’t know this act could be taken offensively. School districts do not want to elongate the period of discomfort; they simply want to return to normality and eerily quiet peacefulness.

That is one large bite of bologna sandwich.

Instead of trying to cover up the situation in the quickest manner possible, schools should be addressing it wholly. If, in fact, a student was ignorant of the blatantly racist connotations with his or her act, we should address this ignorance. He or she is definitely not the only ignorant teenager here; we are all ignorant to some extent.

This ignorance is caused by the lack of discussion on uncomfortable issues. Without knowing how his or her actions could be taken offensively, students -- and all members of society -- are held to an unattainable standard.

For example, a person with depression or other mental illness has trigger words. Other people in this community may not know what these trigger words are, simply because they do not experience mental illness from the same perspective.

Certain silly acts of teenagers could be unintentionally offensive, but they are offensive nonetheless. Accidentally stepping on someone’s toe is, yes, an accident, but the toe is still hurt. It takes apologies, empathy, and conversations addressing the issue (and maybe an Ibuprofen or some ice) for the pain to subside.

There are symbols -- like flags or phrases -- that I didn’t realize communicated racist messages to African Americans; this is because I did not grow up as an African American.

While the term “model minority” has enough issues in and of itself, I can say that I had a certain privilege in growing up without experiencing the same type of racism as someone who is African American. Just as I would not understand their point of view if “trigger” topics weren’t discussed, I would not expect non-Asians to understand my Asian upbringing without certain crucial conversations.

Without discussions on topics like racism, I would never know how certain, less-well known actions could be interpreted as racist by groups of people. If society were to change, however, and have these discussions, certain mistakes could be avoided.

Yes, these conversations will be uncomfortable and awkward at first. But yes, this is needed.

I will be the first to say that I do not know the ins and outs of every controversial issue. Each discussion is so multifaceted, and I definitely am not aware of all the perspectives involved. However, I am willing to listen. I am willing to understand. I am willing to empathize.

In order for understanding to happen on a larger scale, we must not be afraid to be politically incorrect. Change begins where one’s comfort zone ends.

We chastise governments who censor their country’s internet capacity, but the hiding of taboos is just as great a crime. In fact, the Wall of Political Correctness may be even more dangerous than the Internet Firewall of China. We, who conform to being politically correct, are doing so without questioning the conversations at stake. At least Chinese citizens have learned how to use a VPN.

We can combat the issues of our country once we talk about them. Instead of hiding behind political correctness and censorship, topics like racism and ignorance should be brought out into the open. We needn’t be so narrow minded in our discussions of sexuality and the rights a human body has; rather, these conversations can spark change and growth.

At the end of the day, we must recognize how potent our voices can be. It is our superpower; it was given to us for a purpose, and that purpose is to talk. That purpose is to make things uncensored. That purpose is to enlighten. Even if this means we have to make people uncomfortable -- even if this means we have to be “politically incorrect”-- at least we know we’re being morally right.'

The article was, ironically, sent back to me by my peer editors with a message to change the wording on “some of the more sensitive issues.” They felt that my specific mention of abortion and rape would create arguments among the readers.

I felt mixed emotions: validated, since the request to be more “politically silent” proved the whole point of my editorial; conflicted, since I understood where they were coming from, but did not want to back down; disappointed, since we, as writers, should have been the ones who were not afraid of saying something controversial.

Ultimately, I pressed my case and refused to give into the comfort of political silence. I met with the principal and explained how I wanted to publish the editorial without having to compromise its purpose. He reviewed a draft of my it with the heads of our district’s other principals. As soon as I got the approval from them, I re-submitted the draft to my editors.

This time, it got published.

I know this installment doesn’t have to do with grammar or foreign languages; rather, it deals with the issue of using language to make a change. I wanted to share a personal story, as it shows how powerful language use can be applied to everyday life.

I feel greatly empowered by the gift of language. I feel obligated to use it to paint a bigger picture. I feel one with this power that unites all of us -- that allows all of us to have a voice.

I hope you do too.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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