"What do you call yourself?" CEO Jack Donaghy asks his Latin romantic interest Elisa, to which she replies, "A Puerto Rican." Dumbfounded, he retorts, "No, I know you can say that but what do I call you?" She insists once again, "A Puerto Rican." Flabbergasted by the idea that the politically correct identification of a Puerto Rican is, in fact, a Puerto Rican, he responds, "Wow, that does not sound right." The critically acclaimed comedy show "30 Rock" ridicules the pervasive stigma that surrounds race, and makes one actively question the way we have "collectively constructed and institutionalized" race through this constant need to be racially sensitive and politically correct, Caroline Howarth writes in the article, "Race as Stigma." I have encountered similar but less ridiculous situations, except the only thing I'm capable of verbalizing is, "Seriously?"
From liberals to conservatives on campus, everyone can acknowledge the fact that Brown embraces and advocates its sense of political correctness and racial sensitivity. Unsurprisingly, the acronym "P.C." gained widespread attention in a cartoon strip published by Brown. In the wide spectrum of political correctness, Brown equally struggles to resolve the conflicts of the trivial and fleeting matters to the most pressing and controversial concerns. I applaud Brown's efforts to climb several steps ahead in the giant ladder of political correctness, but several steps more could cause the whole ladder to collapse.
Brown is constantly redefining what it means to be politically correct and racially sensitive; the renaming of Columbus Day to Fall Weekend, as a Herald opinions column expressed, was an attempt "to appease Native American rights activists" ("Fall Weekend, reimagined," Oct. 8, 2009). However, Brown alums and Mayor of Providence David Cicilline '83 protested, "The decision to simply erase the celebration of an incredibly significant moment in world history and Italian-American culture for (the) sake of political correctness does just the opposite." The ambiguous but "politically correct" naming did not completely satisfy either side, but it minimized the commotion.
To some extent, this atmosphere of political correctness can be a tad bit excessive and detrimental when considering the discomfort it creates in informal and formal settings. When I'm asked, "Where are you from?" I will respond, "Los Angeles," and I chuckle at the dissatisfied faces of the students who were actually curious about my racial background, but resisted the temptation to ask once again, in an effort to be racially sensitive. Occasionally, I get the serious but laughable question, "What's more politically correct: Hispanic or Latino?"
When I reveal my ethnic background, I say my mother is Honduran and my father is Puerto Rican. I enthusiastically joke that I fulfilled both the Caribbean and Central American racial quota. I am not devaluing my own merits or unconsciously being self-deprecating; I am challenging the uncomfortable boundaries of race and trivializing the need to be politically correct.
We have more liberty to speak carelessly in an informal setting, but there are the unfortunate few who do realign or conceal their opinions in a formal one. It's become an unconscious effort to preserve an artificial atmosphere of political correctness, where people can choose to censor controversial ideas or even ordinary comments. In the midst of protecting the prevailing idea, those who are satisfied with the so-called "just way of thinking" will only deprive the less-favored view of its validity.
To be told it's unethical to say one thing, but it's perfectly fine to say another, is a misleading way of teaching and learning. It's disconcerting to realize that people willingly suppress a thought to remain politically correct or that they mask their own ideas under the sugarcoated conventionally accepted idea. The pervasiveness of political correctness is at times just borderline ridiculous. Unfortunately, it can and will at times ultimately create and enforce a generic guideline of how one should think and feel.
A school that strives to promote racial sensitivity and political correctness inadvertently creates unnecessary boundaries between the "majority" perspective and the "minority" perspective. The book "The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope and Reforms," defends the need to trivialize political correctness and to preserve intellectual diversity in the academic sphere. In it, contributors William O'Donohue and Richard E. Redding claim, "Just as minority students may feel alienated in educational environments lacking minority professors or culturally sensitive course content, conservative students may feel alienated when few (often none) of their professors share or respect their views and when conservative perspectives are excluded from pedagogy."
Creating a more politically correct atmosphere at the expense of those with perhaps the most unconventional views will inevitably minimize diversity. Being politically correct is gradually transforming into the way of thinking and acting. People are becoming excessively conscious of what they say and overly sensitive to foreign ideas. We should de-emphasize the need for political correctness so that the only concern is no longer what or who will be offended. Then we can strive to fully promote the guiltless liberty of self-expression once more.
Elizabeth Perez '13 is an economics and international relations concentrator from Hollywood, Calif. She can be contacted at elizabeth_perez (at) brown.edu.