The Daily Northwestern

Salem: Political correctness can inhibit political and cultural discourse

Tala Salem, Columnist

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As an international student from Jordan, I have had to adjust to many features of American culture and I have loved many aspects of it. However, there is a negative aspect of American society that has stood out to me. The hypersensitivity regarding discourse that examines societal divisions in terms of race, gender or otherwise is quite different from what I am accustomed to. My American friends have taught me these issues are taboo subjects and should be avoided at all costs. I agree it is wrong to offend people, but sometimes, especially at Northwestern, it feels as though one cannot say anything without being labeled as or warned about being “politically incorrect.”

It becomes even more difficult for us to solve problems of racial and gender inequality as well as mental health if we avoid discussing them publicly. Political correctness at NU has escalated from attempting not to offend people to a stigma that denounces the speaker at the slightest mention of the name of a cultural group or subgroup. I am deeply grateful and appreciative of the freedoms available in the U.S., and taking a cue from Western values of free speech and expression, I think society should allow for freedom of speech with minimal constraints. These basic boundaries should be carefully drawn so as not to stifle or stop people from engaging in meaningful political discourse.

I am aware this topic is a sensitive one that has been brought up many times. Nevertheless, I feel that something should be done about this to allow for more straightforward conversations. We should not have to feel like we are walking on eggshells when speaking for fear of being labeled as offensive.

Putting this into context, I recently commented to one of my colleagues that Americans are more likely to enjoy dramatic TV shows. This triggered an unexpected reaction and response, as he was angered by my generalizations and described me as a racist. I was truly offended by these allegations because my comment was not racist, it was merely an observation about a culture. I myself am a minority, an Arab Muslim female. Yet whenever people say anything, whether correct or incorrect, about the Arab or Muslim culture, I do not feel offended. On the contrary, I feel proud to represent and defend my culture and correct any misperceptions.

All humans are equal in society and no group should ever be marginalized or oppressed, but avoiding conversations that refer to subgroups in society does not solve the issue of marginalization of minority groups, it exacerbates it. People feel like these issues are too complicated to discuss, so they avoid talking about them. I wonder how we can tackle conflict if we do not dare to confront cultural and political issues for fear of being stigmatized.

I understand how the U.S. has arrived at this level of political correctness after many years of civic struggle and sacrifice. I also understand that minorities have had to fight to be acknowledged in society. However, I do not appreciate the hypersensitivity and limitations that political correctness has placed on conversations and debates at NU. In order to solve societal issues, we should be free to discuss the gravity of these issues without the fear of being harassed by “the PC police.”

My country, Jordan, recently appeared near the top of a list of least tolerant societies, according to the Daily Mail. Seeing as 13 percent of Jordan’s population are asylum seekers and refugees, this does not seem accurate. Granted, awareness campaigns are necessary in some non-Western societies, including Jordan, to explain political correctness, as many people are intolerant when it comes to minority groups. I believe the U.S. should look into finding ways to allow for constructive dialogue that is not inhibited by the participating parties’ fear of being labeled. After all, the U.S. is a free country, and people should be able to tackle cultural, social and socioeconomic issues without being afraid of offending segments in society. As a Jordanian in the United States, I have seen two opposite ends of the spectrum and I argue for the necessity of a middle ground.

Tala Salem is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at talasalem2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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