by Tess Adair
This year’s season of South Park has been pretty on-point. The principal was fired at the beginning of the year and replaced with a dudebro frat boy character named PC Principal. As you might guess, PC Principal is DEDICATED to political correctness. He does belong to a fraternity, which is simply called PC and is dedicated to addressing any and all microaggressions they witness, and their hazing ritual requires new members to “check someone’s privilege”--by brutally shaming them until they admit to bigotry.
Naturally the rise of the PC bros is somehow the work of a giant unstoppable conspiracy. What else?
Are you PC, bro? I’m PC too, bro!
Earlier this year, I listened to a podcast interview with Jon Ronson. His most recent book, called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, tackles the rise and power of Twitter-shaming. On the podcast, he talked about Justine Sacco--a woman whose story you’ve undoubtedly heard, although I imagine that, like me, you don’t remember her name.
Back in December of 2013, Justine Sacco released a very ill-advised tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Right after that, she got on a plane, disconnected from the internet, and went to sleep.
The tweet was idiotic, insensitive, not particularly funny, and, of course, offensive. But the reaction to it is what makes it a story. The reaction was insane.
By the time Sacco woke up and got back online, she had lost her job and become a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. For a brief moment in time, the internet became a place completely singular in its dedication to denouncing her as a disgusting racist and demanding she receive punishment for it.
Then, as the internet is prone to do, it moved on. But Sacco didn’t. Her life had effectively been ruined. Her job and reputation were lost, and even her dating life was affected. It took her more than a year to recover, and even that kind of depends on a pretty loose interpretation of the word “recover.”
What was the point of all that? What did we, as a society, gain from ruining this woman? What did she do to deserve it?
Contrary to what the internet might have you believe, she was not a KKK member. Members of the KKK are killers, not Twitterers.
I hate the term “culture wars.” Sure, it’s effective, but it allows for no nuance. We call this twitter-shaming a part of the culture wars, but we also throw police brutality into that category. Hell, we largely use the term to describe a the real-life interplay of partisan politics.
All these things are interconnected, sure. But lumping them together erases a good amount of highly necessary understanding.
Lately, this PC-based shaming has evolved and grown, taking over college campuses with abandon. All across the country, college students are protesting the actions and inactions of the halls of power, to varying degrees of success.
In fact, it’s happening at my alma mater, Wesleyan University.
I'm not surprised Wesleyan has jumped on the bandwagon. Wesleyan has long been a campus of hyper privileged (rich, mostly white) kids yearning to earn their middle-class-radical-progressive credentials. I’m only surprised it took them so long.
I read the Wesleyan missive against the administration. The funny thing is, I do agree with the base sentiment--that the administration is completely out of touch with its less privileged students, and that its lack of interest in them is appalling. But the kids and I differ on exactly what makes an under-privileged student at Wesleyan, and we definitely differ on how to make things better.
The kids demand...well, for lack of a better term, touchy-feely shit. To list, they demand: “equity and inclusion” but provide no specifics, an apology from the University President for the fact that he hasn’t done anything (again, no specifics) about racism so far, the hiring of an “equity advocate,” which is someone whose entire job is to enforce the vague demands of this missive, the establishment of a multicultural center, and the institution of a way to track professors’ “microaggressions” so they can be punished for them later.
Ok, kids of Wesleyan. Well done, you wrote a thing. A deeply pointless, whiny bullshit thing.
Not a single thing you are asking for will do anything to substantially help an actual, real life under-privileged student. You were right to note that the underprivileged students are screwed at Wesleyan. You are completely wrong about how to help them. And I think you are also wrong about who they are.
A wealthy student of Latino descent whose parents went to Yale, who doesn’t have to take out loans, who doesn’t need a job even for spending money--that kid is not under-privileged at Wesleyan.
An underprivileged student at Wesleyan is either the first in her family to go to college, or among the very few. She is taking on decades of mind-breaking debt to attend; her father will not get her an internship every summer that catapults her into a career after college; no family member will send her money so she can buy extra snacks or even a book she needs that wasn’t on the initial syllabus; she will have one or multiple jobs on campus and sometimes she will sacrifice study time to put in extra work hours because if she doesn’t, she might not be able to buy the new pair of pants she desperately needs since her last pair finally succumbed to old age.
You, current Wesleyan students, want her hard-earned tuition to go toward hiring an “equity advocate.” At Wesleyan University, there is no guarantee that any student on work-study will get a job at all. It took me three months to find one because Wesleyan’s resources to help me do so practically did not exist. I got a work-study grant every semester for up to $4,000, which means the federal government determined that that was the amount of help I deserved and needed. I never once made even half that, and I held three jobs on campus and applied for endless more. I put in twice as many work hours as classroom hours. I was never able to save a single penny. And I worked jobs in the summer, too.
So forgive me if I don’t think Wesleyan needs to hire an extra staff member to tend to hurt feelings.
Wesleyan needs to address the real needs of underprivileged students. Instead of an “equity advocate,” why not hire someone to make sure that every kid who qualifies for work-study gets a job within the first month of classes? Hell, why not use a work-study student for that job?
But you know what, kids of Wesleyan? You have no reason to listen to me. You are college students, after all. Obviously you know what’s best. (Oh, I do it for the lolz, man.)
Go ahead and keep investing your energy in shielding yourself from “microaggressions” and making sure there’s a goddamn trigger warning on the top of every page of Huck Finn. I’m sure it makes you feel better about yourself to think that you’re helping the world. And by “helping the world,” I of course mean “mollycoddling your precious feelings from encountering the possibility that you might not be all that right or all that special.”
Meanwhile, outside the hallowed halls of the protected incubating chambers where the world’s most privileged children learn to be adults, the “culture wars” claim another real-life victim. Laquan McDonald was gunned down in Chicago, in October of 2014.
My heart breaks just looking at this picture. It hurts me, almost physically.
It should hurt all of us.
Censorship, my friends, is not a one-way street. You can censor the n-word, and you can censor the depiction of gay people and relationships, and you can censor a video of a young man who posed no immediate threat to anyone being shot to death in the middle of the street.
After all, any one of those things can hurt you. And we don’t want to hurt, do we?
So funny thing about this season of South Park. The whole town goes PC crazy, especially Stan’s dad, the ever-luminous Randy Marsh (who has a long history of standing in for broad-spectrum adult idiocy.) He joins the PC frat and he goes to town on poor Kyle’s “privilege,” and he joins in on the general shaming of any and all microaggressions.
And then a bunch of homeless people invade the nice part of town, but the cops refuse to do anything about it at first. So the town’s adults offer them a trade: if they agree to clear out the homeless, they get to beat up all the minorities they want.
Not a single PC bro says anything about it.
But hey, college kids, it’s cool. I’m sure you think you’re doing something super important. I’m sure you really think that a multicultural center will make everything okay.
I just kind of doubt that the existence of a multicultural center on your campus would have done anything to help Laquan McDonald, so I’m kind of having a hard time giving a shit about it.
See what I did just there? Yeah, I checked your privilege. I had some refreshments, and I checked your privilege.
We’re having an important cultural moment right now. Like the printing press before it, the internet is ushering in a new era of literacy, and we have yet to see where that will take us. Most of what I read about Twitter-shaming and college PC-madness puts it all in a particular framework, suggesting that all of this is part of the rise of some kind of victimhood culture, where the smallest slights are deadly offenses and deserve no less retribution than total ruination.
But I think the internet, and perhaps social media in particular, is also why we are finally having a nationwide discussion of racism, police brutality, and incarceration in general.
We need to have that discussion. And we need to have it without censorship. We need to have it unhindered by a fear of hurt feelings.
We cannot protect ourselves from reality. Any attempt to limit your exposure to it only cripples your ability to deal with it.
And while we waste our breath demanding a record of professors’ microaggressions, we ignore the fact that there is no national database of statistics on police killings. The adults make a pact with the cops and everybody looks the other way.
You know, there is something positive to take from all this. Our college students are, on some level, capable of banding together and trying to accomplish something. They are capable of organizing and mounting a coherent, if absurd, protest.
Can you imagine what they might accomplish if they focused that ability on something bigger than themselves?