Opinion | Op-eds

Reflexive PC-ness is problem for Theta, Chad Washington

Yesterday, members of Kappa Alpha Theta were “outed” as un-PC for brandishing “Mexican” paraphernalia at an Olympics-themed party. Immediately, I was reminded of Chad Washington’s arrest last spring. Online commentators claimed racism was at work, expressed sentiment against the athletic community, and relayed condemnation from the student body—all within five minutes, and with hardly a peep of concern for the victim. 

I assumed it would blow over, but instead there emerged vulgar tweets by members of the football team, which incited students to call for their expulsion. There was a crusade to denounce the alleged racism in the name of political correctness, yet some of the commentary on Washington’s identity as an African-American athlete was stereotypical, and thus un-PC. These allegations have persisted despite the dismissal of the charges. These two events demonstrate that there is a lot of confusion about the purpose of political correctness, a confusion that undermines the value of discourse and on-campus diversity.

[Related: Smells like political correctness]

Enter the “Political Correctness Police,” the term I use for those as vocal as they are misguided when it comes to social justice. The PCP were the most aware of Washington’s identity as an African-American athlete, and this detail figured in their commentary days before anyone knew the circumstances of the incident. Similarly, the PCP pounced on the members of Theta for their alleged cultural appropriation, placing the emphasis of the story around sorority girls dressing in sombreros and mustaches to represent Mexican culture, and omitting the other nationalities equally stereotyped and poked fun at, such as the “German Olympic team” wearing lederhosen and the “French Olympic team” brandishing berets and baguettes. 

Columbia students have a proud and well-earned reputation for speaking out, but the diatribes of our most vocal today reflect a culture of outrage on campus. Columbia students—especially the PCP—often rush to condemn remarks that fall out of line by pulling the “racist,” “sexist,” or “elitist” cards, prefaced by the ubiquitous phrase, “check your privilege.” 

But where PC-ness is meant to minimize offense against the disadvantaged, we have instead made any calm discussions on race, gender, and socioeconomic status off-limits. The PCP take issue with people of privilege approaching situations that include any kind of minority, and then condemn them for that privilege. This is wrong. The discussion cannot just be about the underprivileged—not when the privileged are in a position to effect change. We have to realize that change requires extending compassion to those whose worldviews are less politically correct than our own.

[Related: What is privilege?]

This “reflexive” PC-ness also reinforces the otherness of social groups. For instance, the PCP used the controversial tweets and other “public displays of bigotry” to perpetuate the “nasty athlete” stereotype. A similar projection emerged with the “privileged prep school brat” stereotype that monopolized Overheard Columbia, based on submissions of questionable authorship.

The PCP’s impulse to think in terms of groups instead of individuals comes from an admirable intention, but reflects a perversion of the ideology behind social justice movements, and has to stop. No lone individual is truly characteristic of a group. We should thus never chalk one person’s behavior up to characteristics that implicate entire groups. Self-awareness about micro-aggressions and internalized oppression are not a given; they are learned and can be unlearned.

We can never hope to achieve a post-racist, post-sexist, post-elitist society if every aspect of our lives is an issue of group identity. Especially not when the language we use in the name of PC-ness only reinforces the barriers that we seek to eliminate—including those dividing the majority from the minority, and minority groups from each other. How can we reap the benefits of student diversity when the lingering fear of sounding un-PC to people of diverse identities forces us to walk on eggshells during discourse for fear of offending them?

We must end the PCP’s monopoly on justice, in which individuals are barred from discourse and criticized for their private expression due to their position of privilege. Those who’ve challenged the PCP in the past failed to upend the establishment because their personal privilege undermined the credibility of their arguments. I’m different because I’m a lower-middle class gay Dominican—a collective of marginalized identities that spares me from PCP scrutiny and allows me to have a say in these issues, which is an ironic privilege in itself. Just think about how you’d be reading this article if I were a rich, white, heterosexual male.

So, members of the PCP, I share your underlying values. I too want a tolerant campus. And when I say campus, I mean world, because as you love to point out, learning isn’t limited to the classroom. Join my cause and make PC-ness something more than a cause in and of itself. Spend some time with the less politically correct. Promote diversity by living it. Then we’ll talk.

The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in sustainable development.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Anonymous posted on

Man, I definitely thought this was going to end with "the author is a first-year in Columbia College."

+1
+12
-1
Nope posted on

just a major in sustainable development

+1
-13
-1
Anonymous posted on

And that implies what? That we are somehow less competent?

+1
+15
-1
Anonymous posted on

No, it would have just given him an excuse for sounding so ignorant

+1
-16
-1
menckenman posted on

A tree falling in the forest; a tempest in a Keurig machine; a non-event.
Parties like this are and always have been meant to be self-deprecating, stupid and meaningless and fun for the attendees . At some point in your mental and emotional development, all you breast-pounders, you will achieve the epiphany that every single event in this world is not meant to have an effect or a meaning, and is not going to be congruent with your personal attitudes or feelings.
I doubt KAT has any interest in the Mexican flag, good or bad, and I doubt Mexico is aware of KAT, either here or anywhere in the world.
Suggestion: stop feeling so sensitive and self-centric. The world doesn’t always go the way you want. Save your energy for real issues. Give it a rest.

+1
+17
-1
Anonymous posted on

At some point in your mental and emotional development, all you breast-pounders, you will achieve the epiphany that every single event in this world is not meant to have an effect or a meaning, and is not going to be congruent with your personal attitudes or feelings.

+1
+5
-1
Anonymous posted on

Why can't i upvote this

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

i think this writer is on PCP

+1
-25
-1
Anonymous posted on

Great article Ryan, this is great!

+1
+34
-1
Rihana Diabo posted on

Great article Ryan!!

+1
+26
-1
CC '14 posted on

Well done mate. Thank you

+1
+23
-1
in the spirit of the article posted on

before this comment section erupts into a shitshow, please recognize that it took a lot of guts for ryan to publish something like this and that just disparaging his opinions with a snarky dismissive comment is literally the opposite of what he's advocating for. so disagree all you like but please contribute to a discussion rather than just inflating your own sense of moral self righteousness.

+1
+84
-1
Anonymous posted on

I think the comments on Christian's article yesterday - and those that have already started to rack up here - are a reflection of exactly what Ryan is writing against: few to none of them are substantive, but instead intend to immediately shut down any and all conversation just because we're faced with someone who proscribes to a different definition of "offensive" than we personally do.

+1
+43
-1
Agreed posted on

Yes. This. And it's what people on both side of the argument are doing.

+1
+9
-1
CC'16 posted on

As Columbia students we are all pretty privileged in that we get to have these conversations. But at the same time, we are all pretty sheltered in that we don't typically find ourselves in conversation with people who don't adhere to our conception of what is PC. That's not real life. You can't create change if you just criticize or shut out anyone who isn't as PC as you. This is a great article for addressing that.

+1
+34
-1
Mark King BC '16 posted on

While I agree that certain amounts of fervor in policing language can be unproductive, I think you're missing a core part of the social justice that you reference a number of times in this article. Making generalizations about athletes cannot be equated to people making generalizations about Asian people or any other minority. This is because athletes are not a minority. They have not been systematically oppressed for generations. Also, your identity does not exempt you from being called out for being sexist, racist, homophobic, or anything else. Furthermore, even if a minority status awards someone an advantage in a specific place or kind of discourse, it does make it a privilege. Privilege comes from the consistent, ongoing oppression of those without privilege. It comes from a much larger structure than small benefits in very specific instances. I understand where you're coming from in wanting to support a fuller dialogue, I just feel that you're missing a couple of key points in why people regulate some kinds of language and not others.

+1
+35
-1
"Mark" went to Barnard? posted on

Almost as questionable as your line of logic, seeming how you don't even exist according to Columbia's uni search, but keep stoking the flames, troll! You are everything that is wrong with society.

+1
-76
-1
Mark King (Still BC '16) posted on

Dude...I'm trans. I definitely exist.

+1
+90
-1
Directed at "'Mark' went to Barnard?" posted on

(212) 746-5317

+1
0
-1
Becca Meyer posted on

wow this is one of the most horrible comments I've seen on spec.
a) transgender men go to barnard
b) if someone is brave enough to put their name, school, and year on a spec comment how dare you question whether or not they actually exist just because you can't find them in a uni search (again see point a)
c) mark's point was intelligent, thought out, and respectful, unlike yours.
d) "you are everything that is wrong with society" in what universe do you think it's ok to say this to a person gracefully airing his opinion

+1
+66
-1
becca posted on

sorry, i posted this before i realized that mark had already replied

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

Did you really compare their French and German costumes, to their Mexican ones? I agree that there is a reflexice political correctness to a certain extent, but the French and German stereotypes (countries that are historically associated with white people) don't carry the history and racism that the Mexican ones do.

+1
-13
-1
Anonymous posted on

Did you really compare their French and German costumes, to their Mexican ones? I agree that there is a reflexice political correctness to a certain extent, but the French and German stereotypes (countries that are historically associated with white people) don't carry the history and racism that the Mexican ones do.

+1
-22
-1
Yay posted on

Thank you for writing this!

+1
+5
-1
Anonymous posted on

The PCP, also known as the SJW (Social Justice Warrior)

+1
-1
-1
Check Your Privilege posted on

LOL

+1
-9
-1
Anonymous posted on

everyone should check this out:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.700070940035904.1073741831.479184565457877&type=3

+1
+3
-1
They are Mexican posted on

They are allowed to express their culture how they want to. Even more, they're not even wearing costumes. It's one cutout.

+1
-8
-1
Anonymous posted on

this event was staged in lerner party space. Chicano Caucus had everyone that stopped by their stand take a photo with the cutout, including people of non-mexican heritage.

+1
+2
-1
CC'15 posted on

Just because they did it doesn't mean it's okay. There were girls from minority groups in the Jamaica and Japan pictures that Theta posted, and they seemed pretty okay doing what they were doing. But a few individuals of a minority group, who don't take offense to a certain representation of their group, cannot be and should not be representative of what everyone else in their group thinks. Maybe the board members of Chicano Caucus thought this would be a great way to introduce and portray Mexican culture, but it certainly doesn't undo the fact that it still is a stereotypical representation of the culture.

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

Let's see:
Private party, no public political or racial statement intended or implied, college undergrads having a good time, acting a bit silly but age-appropriate, no overt deliberate denigration......I gotta think some folks are really taking this downtown. Are there no issues out there more relevant or important?
You folks are really desperate for an issue, any issue. Go get a life, study harder, and maybe make some friends. When you see the real thing in all its ugliness, you will understand the difference between that and a sorority party. Then we'll see what sort of cojones you have.

+1
+6
-1
uhhhhhhhh posted on

"Enter the “Political Correctness Police,” the term I use for those as vocal as they are misguided when it comes to social justice. The PCP were the most aware of Washington’s identity as an African-American athlete, and this detail figured in their commentary days before anyone knew the circumstances of the incident. Similarly, the PCP pounced on the members of Theta for their alleged cultural appropriation, placing the emphasis of the story around sorority girls dressing in sombreros and mustaches to represent Mexican culture, and omitting the other nationalities equally stereotyped and poked fun at, such as the “German Olympic team” wearing lederhosen and the “French Olympic team” brandishing berets and baguettes."

Yo, this dude is deeply confused. He seems to be literally grouping everyone he disagrees with into a single category, despite from the fact that all of the views he cites probably come from completely opposing sides.

Re: Chad: A hate crime is a hate crime, so Chad Washington's racial identity is less important than the fact that he directed violence and racist vitriol towards an Asian American. There is no contradiction in a PoC perpetrating racism against another PoC, so Ryan is correct in saying that it's actually un-PC to make a big deal about Washington's race. But then he says that the PCP were the ones who made the biggest fuss about it. I have literally no idea what point he's trying to make there.

People who viewed the Mexican costumes as racist but not the French or German ones would argue that cultural appropriation isn't an equal exchange, anymore than racism is--that is, what makes the Mexican costumes racist in the first place as opposed to merely perpetuating stereotypes, is that the Mexican and by extension the Latin@ identity is accompanied by a history of marginalization and legal discrimination within the context of the U.S. and the West, whereas France and Germany have enjoyed opposite experiences. This is literally part of a complex cultural and sociological debate that did not start in the minds of fevered "PCPs," but rather in the classrooms of colleges and academic institutions like Columbia.

Mr. Elivo could walk into any professor's office in the CSER department and ask one of them to explain the context and history behind this issue to him. I think it would be a valuable education.

+1
-4
-1
Part of the problem posted on

I agree with a lot of this, but we really need to stop telling people who disagree with us that they don't know any history or sociology. Perhaps they do, perhaps they don't. Given that – as the above comment acknowledges – much of the content around these issues is generated and still discussed in debates, the fact that someone doesn't come around to the same conclusion as you does not necessarily mean that they do not know history. This is the type of un-constructive dialogue Ryan mentions.

+1
+11
-1
Anonymous posted on

Wait, bringing historical and sociological context into a debate constitutes "un-constructive" dialogue? Then what, pray tell me, what constitute a constructive one?

+1
-2
-1
Clearly you didn't read the comment posted on

It's not saying that you can't bring context in. What it is saying is that instead of telling someone, "I suggest go to CSER" to get educated, say "Clearly you haven't considered the history of oppression...." Because there's a good chance someone knows their history (or thinks they do) and will ignore the rest of your comment; just get around to what you want to say...

Whoever commented this is undoubtedly acting in a problematic way: you didn't even read the comment closely. The difference between what was written and what you claimed it said involves more than a nuance. It's pretty damn obvious

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

"I’m different because I’m a lower-middle class gay Dominican—a collective of marginalized identities that spares me from PCP scrutiny and allows me to have a say in these issues, which is an ironic privilege in itself."

......That is neither ironic nor privileged. That is fair. Just as we would give preference to a starving man to talk about hunger than a man who never went without food a day in his life. Just as we would give more weight to a woman expressing her opinion over a woman's issue than we would give a man. Just like I would rather take advice about adulthood from an actual adult than I would from a teenager. The logic behind that is of the simplest kind.

+1
-3
-1
Anonymous posted on

But read the next sentence: "Just think about how you’d be reading this article if I were a rich, white, heterosexual male."

I think his point is that even if he used the same exact words as he did in this article, yet was a straight rich white dude, we would tune out to what he was saying. Whereas, because he's none of those things, we give more credence to what he has to say, even though a straight rich white dude could make an equally cogent argument.

+1
+9
-1
Anonymous posted on

"even though a straight rich white dude could make an equally cogent argument." This is a question of how much space a person gets to bring take up, not logic. As a PoC, I'd argue that Ryan's logic is neither sensible nor cogent, and to be frank, the entire op-ed rather pisses me off. But he is bringing something in that no white person can--his own authentic and lived experiences of being a PoC that imbues this logic with more credibility than a white person who has never experienced racism in their life. I'd argue that this is still fair in a much more substantial way than suggesting that everyone's opinion matters exactly the same amount on every issue.

+1
-5
-1
Anonymous posted on

"Immediately, I was reminded of Chad Washington’s arrest last spring." Are you actually kidding me? Chad Washington physically harassed someone. The football team made pointedly offensive comments against gays, jews, and women. HOW did a few women wearing obviously harmless costumes that no one can admit they were directly offended or made unsafe by them be even a tiny bit comparable? The neckbeards at spec need to stop publishing students' names online for the world to google whenever they do anything wrong. Chad Washington was wrong, these women made a mistake. There's a huge difference.

+1
+4
-1
It's in the article posted on

He commented on the reactions to it, not the events in themselves

+1
-1
-1
CC '17 posted on

I 100% agree and found the sentence about the oppressiveness of PC-ness to be spot on. Regarding the original article, I found the party about as offensive as an American-run Chinese food restaurant. Great work! I think it requires a lot of guts to stand up against this inbred culture of political correctness, one that is not just ineffective against its intent but inherently counterproductive.

+1
+3
-1
a "PCP" aka non-mac police (GET IT? HAAA) posted on

This is just one long way of saying "you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" which is really just another way of derailment. I agree with some parts of this article, but the bit describing the "PC Police" is generalizing, misrepresenting, and even patronizing. Reactions of anger and/or disgust to "non-PC" people or actions shouldn't be seen as counterproductive to the social justice cause. When your actions offend someone, instead of getting defensive you should at least see where that offense is being taken, especially since people don't choose to get offended.

This article also posts a lot of false equivalencies-- see Mark's post in the comments somewhere as they are spot on. For instance, the athlete and prep school brat stereotype might be wrong, but it doesn't affect those people mentioned the same way perpetuating a racial stereotype affects a minority group. Also it's very inaccurate to portray social awareness as a privilege, which the article paints as something non-PCs don't have (and therefore are being "silenced" for). Finally, the reason social injustice still occurs isn't because PCPs are promoting otherness and hindering unification; racism, sexism, classism etc. still exist because people *are* still racist, sexist, classist etc., and whether those prejudices stem from ignorance or not doesn't change the fact that they are still perpetuating them. People in more privileged positions are at best ignorant/do nothing to change status quo and at worst actively seek to oppress the marginalized minority.

TL;DR Stop telling us to be nice and to dumb down for "non-PC" people. I personally like displaying etiquette in discussions about social justice issues, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't have to feel bad about calling someone out for being offensive; telling me to be polite is another way of telling me to put that offending person's feelings first, even though you're ironically not considering mine. If a non-PC person really cared about those causes they should know to look beyond the tone of someone's argument/reaction/opinion/etc. Like you said, self-awareness can be learned, so ignorance is not an excuse.

+1
-1
-1
same one posted on

ugh, meant to say "doesn't mean I SHOULD have to feel bad..."

+1
0
-1
CC and proud of it posted on

lolz classic Barnard girl :)
I'm sure you're studying all about this stuff in your joint Human Rights / Gender Studies major.
P.S. Learn what TL;DR means

+1
-3
-1
haha actually im CS tho id study HR/GS/etc too if i had time posted on

but thanks for again showing why there is a need for such majors. anyway apparently a couple of sentences is still TL 4 u, CC would be ashamed

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

THANK YOU

+1
+1
-1