What is “politically incorrect”?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while. With 18 articles claiming the title, you’d think I’d have figured it out by now. But the question is actually twofold. “Politically Incorrect,” the column, is not the same thing as politically incorrect, the concept, any more than a house is the same as its foundation.

There are a lot of things I could be writing about today. The Tsarnaev brothers have been half-captured, half-killed; the U.S. Senate has rejected a crucial piece of gun control legislation; even here at UCSB, we’re charging through the last day of student elections. These are worthy and relevant issues, but ones that have been effectively beaten to death by national and local media. It’s never been my intention to pummel a corpse. So I’ll spare you the obligatory “reflective farewell” article that comes around week nine of each Spring Quarter by writing it now instead.

I remember quite vividly my first politically incorrect thought. I was about 10 years old and riding along in the backseat of my family’s old Pathfinder, being driven home from school by my mom. After asking me the standard how-was-your-day mom questions, she had fallen silent at the wheel and was focusing on the road. Alone in the back seat, I started to ruminate over something I had heard at school earlier that day. Eventually, I asked:

“Mommy, what’s diversity?”

From the way she chewed her lip while she stared at the road ahead of her, I could tell my mom was thinking hard about how to best answer this question. After a moment, she said, “Diversity is about opportunity. It means that there are just as many African-Americans who get to work a particular job or go to a particular school as there are Asians or Latinos or Caucasians.”

I pondered this, staring out the window at the passing signs and cars. Then I said, “So if diversity is about having the same number of people from every different race, then shouldn’t we make Chinese people fight in all the wars?”

Her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel. “Excuse me?”

“Because there are more people in China than anywhere else in the world,” I explained. “So that means that they should fight in the wars so only they get killed, so other people don’t go extinct. For diversity.”

We almost ran up on the embankment. My ears were ringing for several weeks after the verbal lashing that ensued. Needless to say, I’ve come to understand the flaw in my 10-year-old logic long since. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a small part of me that’s still proud of that kid’s tenacity.

Because political incorrectness is never easy: It means standing proudly with your reasoning on the unpopular side of public opinion in spite of the criticism this might entail. My point about the Chinese might have been misguided, but it exemplified what it means to be an unreserved critical thinker. That’s part, but not all, of what being politically incorrect is all about.

For the sake of this column, it’s about delivering a take on an issue free of the usual constraints and pretensions of social etiquette. We all have a stern and Sharpie-wielding soldier stationed somewhere between our mouths and our brains, ready to scribble out any statements that could leave us vulnerable to the criticism of others. For people like Mel Gibson and Michael Richards, that guy is doing us all a service. But he’s a conservative censor, strictly by the books, and his indiscriminate scribbling often leaves those of us with actual points silenced just the same as those who blame their personal shortcomings on “the Jews.”

This is the problem with political correctness. For all its promise of tolerance and progress, it fails to make the crucial distinction between the reasonable and the reasonless. A white supremacist and a white philosopher might share nothing in common beside their use of the word “nigger,” but from a politically correct perspective, this is enough to set them equal. When it comes to being politically correct, context is thrown carelessly out the window.

So what is politically incorrect? We could come up with Webster-worthy definitions for the next 50 years, but none of them would ever quite hit the nail on the head. It’s the line between racism and reality, the comment you’d think but never say, the punch line that makes the audience groan. It’s the aborted child of every argument, the thing you’d rather drown in the tub than raise to call your own, and more often than not, it’s the pure, unadulterated truth.

Above all else, it’s a misunderstanding. There will always exist those who fail to separate their emotions from the argument, confusing what’s morally popular with what’s rationally sound. The world is no bed of roses, and to those who embrace it with scrutiny and pragmatism, I send my deepest gratitude.

For those who have yet to come to terms with it, well … I still have a few articles left to write.

10-year-old Mark Strong wasn’t apologetic, and neither is the current version.


This article was published online-only on Thursday April 25, 2013.

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.