Political correctness is a term created to demonize both progressive politics and progressive language. For some people, the mention of the word politics is enough for them to tap out of a conversation. They don’t believe it’s meant for them.
So, let’s clear up what politics are so that we can continue this conversation without eye rolling. Politics are the process of making decisions for a group of people. We may feel unaffected by them and that’s a sign of privilege. It means they’ve served us in the most important ways. That doesn’t dismiss us from the conversation. In fact, as people benefitting from political privilege we need to use our status to give voice to those who aren’t being heard.
Those who like to toss around political correctness at anything they don’t want to take the time to understand, believe that progressive culture is preventing them from “freedom of speech”. They’re demanding a “liberty” of language that doesn’t have to evolve with culture. To think this hasn’t been a fight among human beings for our entire existence is pretty naive. We’re no longer calling cigarettes f*gs for example. Everyone is still fine. Freedom of speech in tact.
I was talking with a group of friends about the Dave Chappelle special on Netflix. I hadn’t seen it, so one of my friends said “Marisa, I don’t think you’d like it,” then added, “but I thought it was brilliant!” I had already heard the controversy surrounding it online so I knew what he was referring to.
It’s as if he was suggesting that my opinions were holding me back from reaching the brilliance of transphobic comedians who joke about rape.
Let me explain to you why those of us who can’t laugh at the expense of marginalized folks aren’t doing it out of snobbery or moral high ground. Why we aren’t just trying to take away your fun.
Last year I wrote a couple of articles about my experience as a victim of sexual assault. You can find one of them here. I lived a very long time trying to convince myself that I was exaggerating, misunderstanding or simply making drama for myself.
This is abnormal behavior.
“If someone holds power (privilege) over the group they’re mocking, it’s dismissing and perpetuating violence against that group.”
Normally when someone wrongs you, you are able to see very clearly who the victim is and who the villain is. It’s human nature to build stories like that around our experiences. We want clarity and we grasp for it even at the expense of seeing the other person as human and as flawed as we ourselves are. In the cases of sexual assault or any sort of domestic violence, you’ll find this narrative often shifts to self-blame. No matter how clearly in the wrong the perpetrator is.
After being diagnosed with depression, I was able to work out quite quickly with a psychologist what had happened and that I could no longer deny that it was rape. It begs the question though: Why is this so difficult for us to identify?
I do believe that a large majority of the problem stems from ideas about what consent means and the sexualization of women’s bodies at an early age but one of the most traumatizing experiences is sharing your pain. We’ve built a society that paints women as overly dramatic, attention-seeking liars and when they come forward with accusations of rape or abuse, we minimize their experiences or flat out deny them.
You already doubt yourself to begin with but when the flood of humiliation hits you, you realize that trauma is as painful as the trauma from the experience itself. Sometimes it even succeeds the trauma of the original incident.
Had the response to my sexual assault been handled without shame, blame, hushing or humiliation, maybe it could sink into memory and let me heal but it won’t. In fact, if there is any significant, haunting trauma in my life that reminds me to feel small, that leads me into paralyzing loneliness and bitterness, it’s that I am not allowed to believe that my rape mattered.
If I’m a killjoy for hating your favourite comedian because he trivializes the pain I’ve lived for 11 years, why should anyone take any sexual assault seriously?
I mean, women should be able to get over it right? It’s so common that we should be able to joke about it by now. No? Isn’t that the sort of narrative we might contrive from a culture that complains about political correctness at the expense of those in pain?
We’re told to move on, laugh in the face of our pain, or at least chuckle along to a comedian mocking our experience.
You can’t laugh at pain if you’re denied the right to feel it.
You can’t move on if you won’t name the thing you need to move on from.
If there is one thing that makes me shudder at human nature, it’s the fact that experiencing and expressing trauma makes people uncomfortable but laughing at it does not.
No one is trying to take away your joy or your “freedom of speech” by asking you to respect their experience or identity. No one is trying to disturb you by asking you to call them by their gender pronouns, nor by asking you not to call them “Indians,” nor by asking you to respect their decision to wear hijab without calling them terrorists. They’re asking you to give them liberty and you’re denying it because it’s too hard to hold yourself accountable to a language that will and always has evolved to suit the needs of the people it represents. That is Democracy ― allowing change.
Jokes about marginalized folks and the trauma they face are as off-limits as we allow them to be. Saying that comedy has a right to push those boundaries is the equivalent of letting the kid you look up to make fun of the bullied loner at school. In the right mindset you might have empathy for the bullied child but in this moment you laugh. Why? Is it because it’s actually funny? Or maybe we just have an addiction to the cruelty of it. Maybe it feels good to be cruel sometimes.
If someone holds power (privilege) over the group they’re mocking, it’s dismissing and perpetuating violence against that group.
Let me end this with a number. 64.
That’s the percentage of trans folk who will experience sexual assault in their lifetime and 40 percent of trans people will kill themselves. Is your favorite comedian and your opposition to “political correctness” worth the added ridicule they face?
No one is killing themselves because they’re trans, queer, black, brown, Muslim, Jewish, a woman. They kill themselves because of violence and the complete understanding that violence won’t end for them because they are the joke behind that violence. A violence that will never be violent enough to stop laughing at.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.