Anyone who thinks politically correct speech was long ago laughed out of existence by conservatives and other heretics of incorrectness has obviously never been to Colorado State University.
CSU made headlines recently with its “inclusive language guide,” a veritable treasury — a 10-page compendium of 130 words — of expressions that should be avoided because they might offend or cause discomfort to others.
The entry that caused conservative commentators to erupt in derision most of all was the one for “America.”
The authors of the guide, the campus’s Inclusive Communications Committee, said that one should not use the terms “America” or “American” because they “erase other cultures.” The guide advises one to say “U.S. citizen” or “person from the U.S.” instead.
In other words, if, when traveling in a foreign country, say Mexico, if a Mexican citizen should ask you if you are an “American,” you should answer, “No, but I’m a person from the U.S.”
Culture critic Kat Timpf at National Review had a romp with the CSU guide. “Anyone over the age of 5 understands that ‘America’ doesn’t only refer to the U.S., and doesn’t erase anyone … I’ve never ordered American cheese on my sandwich and it caused me to forget that Mexico and Canada exist,” she said.
Kimpf rejected the notion that using “America” has “caused the slightest harm to a single other country. As long as others understand what a person means by a certain word, then it should be totally appropriate to use it.”
CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank toned down the militancy of the anti-“America” squad, explaining that the problem was that “there are several geographic regions in the Americas,” and to refer to the United States as “America” was to implicitly exclude millions of people who also live in North and South America, some 42 countries in all.
Frank also pointed out that the media reports were based on an outdated document, one that does not represent the official policy of the university.
Giving the nation’s academics the benefit of the doubt when it comes to sanity, you might suppose that CSU is an aberration, a word-policing outlier of no broader national significance.
CSU has lots of company, While Frank disavowed the “American” advisory, the University of New Hampshire was more boldly inclusive, including it in its own “bias-free language guide.” As far as we know, it’s still there.
Princeton University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh and Middelbury College have promulgated their own guides for acceptable speech.
And if CSU edited out “America” as a problematic word (though it didn’t say why it didn’t survive the final cut), other shining examples remained. Such as “Ladies and Gentlemen,” and “Freshman,” for the gender-sensitive. “First-year person” was suggested as a substitute for the latter.
“Long Time No See” is reportedly on the list too, though without explanation. Apparently because it’s offensive to Asians and Native Americans (supposedly mocking people whose English as a second language is grammatically incorrect).
You’re supposed to say: “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.” Don’t let on that anything’s amiss if your American-born (oops) Chinese friend responds, “Yeah, long time no see.”
CSU denied it was promulgating political correctness. “It was designed as a free resource for people who were asking for help to avoid saying something unintentionally that might needlessly offend someone with whom they were working,” said Frank, in perfect p.c. lingo.
The problem with such language guides is not just that they are ludicrous and impractical, but that they indicate that, somewhere along the way, some of the purveyors of higher education took a wrong turn.
Colleges and universities are meant to be places where science and the humanities are taught in an atmosphere of free inquiry and truth-seeking. The degree of inordinate attention paid to avoiding bruising the real or imagined sensibilities of minority groups runs counter to the rough-and-tumble that often is part and parcel of serious intellectual work. Politically correct speech runs to self-censorship, inhibiting the expression of opinion, and ultimately stultifying thought itself.
In an op-ed in the Washington Examiner a few days ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wrote in a more political vein:
“It would be nice if the staff at our colleges and universities focused on ways to teach our students objective American history, basic economics and financial literacy. It seems that too many of the left-wing college professors and administrators have led large numbers of our young people to believe that America is a land of inequality (if they even say America anymore), capitalism is unjust and their generation is getting a raw deal.”
Expunging the word “America” from daily usage might justifiably be considered un-American. But it will take a lot more ridicule to beat down political correctness.