By Shane Dale
Illustration by Josh HAgler
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday Apr. 9, 2002
Politically correct speech probably began with the best of intentions. It was a goal, originating from guilt, designed to make people as verbally equal as possible. It was supposed to be a positive step in ending racial, ethnic and religious discrimination.
But what started as a well-meaning idea has deteriorated into a debacle of out-of-control overcompensation. Political correctness has extended from the altering of words to the hijacking of actions and ideas.
You might remember a photo, taken shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, of three New York City firefighters raising the American flag amidst the post-Sept. 11 rubble. The picture quickly became famous because it reminded many people of that legendary photo of the flag-raising by U.S. troops at Iwo Jima during World War II.
Several months later, a private organization decided to make a statue out of the picture. It was supposed to be a testament to the courage and resilience of the Fire Department of New York and the entire city of New York. Maybe it was. But it was also tainted with the stink of political correctness, which I had thought was gone after last September.
See, in the original photo, all three firefighters happened to be white men. As it turned out, that just wasn't appropriate for a statue. So they decided to alter the image into the likeness of one white, one black and one Hispanic man.
A couple questions come to mind: First, this was a rather lazy, futile attempt at being politically correct. What about women? There still isn't a female in the statue. And what about other races? If I were Asian or a member of another ethnic group that wasn't portrayed, I just might feel left out.
The organization also brought a proud, patriotic image that had nothing to do with race into a forum of absurd controversy. I don't know about any of you, but when I saw that photo for the first time, I didn't see three white men. I only saw three heroes. Had it been three black men, three Hispanic women, two white women and a Cuban man, whatever, I would have seen it exactly the same way, and I'd wager that 99 percent of America would have too.
Here's another disgraceful PC tale: Last December, Seattle decided to ban the phrase "Merry Christmas" within the walls of its city offices, so as to not offend non-Christian city employees. Yeah, go try to impose the same rules in Israel, India or most any other country in the world. I'd be interested to hear the response.
Political correctness has also seeped into the decision-making process of a great deal of our elected leaders, to the point at which it poses a threat to national and global security. In today's PC world, few politicians would ever run the risk of being called a racist, even if the claim is ridiculous and the best interest of the country they serve is at stake.
PC is responsible for former Attorney General Janet Reno's decision to allow U.S. private funding to Middle Eastern terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to continue, out of fear that stepping in might be construed as racial and religious discrimination to American Muslims.
PC is to blame for our government's lack of responsiveness to problems along the U.S.-Mexico border, where 3 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants are allowed to waltz into our country each year.
And it's PC that has led some Americans to call the war in Afghanistan racist, because they see it as nothing more than a bunch of elite, white men attacking poverty-stricken Muslims. Pardon me, but the war on terror has absolutely, 100 percent nothing to do with race.
All this stems back to political correctness's original purpose: verbal equality.
But as I see it, verbal equality is a black man calling a white man "white" and a white man calling a black man "black" with no guilt and no second thoughts. Until that day comes, no dose of PC can eradicate racism or any other kind of present-day discrimination.
Political correctness can alter our speech and even our actions, but it can't penetrate thought. There are no shortcuts to equality. Attempting to Scotchguard the English language will get us nowhere closer to that goal.