Column: Character judgment, not political correctness, is hurting society

In order to make social progress, we need to calm down and listen to each other.

This fall, America is facing two massive tests. One is of course the presidential election, in which we must decide who we want to run our country. The other and arguably more important one is whether we will stop judging each other based on beliefs or identities and start working together to make this country better.

The candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has brought to the surface a great deal of tension and anger. His supporters are angry because they feel attacked by political correctness and multiculturalism. Conversely, people who don’t support Trump are angry because he says hateful things and gives his supporters permission to do the same. In such a polarizing climate, demonizing others is all too easy, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s right.

Trump’s argument against political correctness is that it unfairly restrains people’s speech and thoughts. Its real purpose is to eliminate discrimination, intentional or not, from our words and actions. However, former President George H. W. Bush said in 1991 that political correctness “replaces old prejudices with new ones,” and that’s unfortunately true. It’s not socially acceptable to mock or joke about historically mistreated groups, but it’s becoming OK in popular culture to make fun of a group that has never been oppressed: white men.

A Trump supporter told The Atlantic in May that the main reason he would vote for Trump was because he felt his “identity as a white man is shamed.” He also said he felt forced to hide his right-leaning political beliefs from a society that doesn’t tolerate them. This person would actually feel safer if Trump wins the White House. Though most people who aren’t white and/or male can’t say the same, America should be a place where no one feels unsafe. Advocating for political correctness isn’t an excuse to be unkind. In fact, hostility in the name of respect is hypocritical.

It’s true that America’s founders were white men who denied women basic rights, killed Native Americans and considered African Americans only three-fifths human. Today’s white men must acknowledge this fact and the system of privilege that stems from it. At the same time, those who encourage social change shouldn’t speak in a manner that blames today’s white men or white people in general for the sins of the Founding Fathers, though some might take it that way regardless of how it’s presented. Additionally, instead of excluding certain groups of people from conversations about oppression because they haven’t experienced and therefore don’t understand it, it’s important to include them in order to educate them. Vilifying and ignoring groups based on their identities is what got America into this situation in the first place. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

The Trump supporter from The Atlantic wants Americans to have “a dialogue, where ideas are put to the test, where people have the opportunity to hear and reject truly disastrous ideologies.” He’s right that, in order to make social progress, we need to calm down and listen to each other. But he’s wrong about political correctness being the enemy. The real enemy is making judgments about other people’s characters.

We can’t assume that all people in a specific group — men, women, Christians, Muslims, Trump supporters, non-Trump supporters — are good or bad. There’s good and bad in everyone, and it’s up to us which side we put on display.

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