Connecticut radio personality Gary Craig of WTIC-FM (96.5) made news recently after posting a video of Hartford’s Latino Festival. Just over a minute in length, the video features Craig feigning ignorance about the event as he offers first-person “commentary.”
“I walked into some kind of parallel universe,” he says, followed by a mock plea: “Help! Help!” Continuing through the crowd, Craig utters profanities and misidentifies a Puerto Rican flag as Cuban, which inspires him to sing his own version of the I Love Lucy theme song.
Not surprisingly, Craig’s weak attempt at humor backfired. A who’s who of community leaders expressed their displeasure, including Hartford mayor Luke Bronin, festival organizer Victor Luna, several city council members, and at least one state legislator.
“Hartford is nearly 44 percent Hispanic,” stated a Hartford Courant editorial. “That’s almost 55,000 people, according to the most recent U.S. Census data — a fact that apparently eludes Mr. Craig as he broadcasts from the station’s studio in Farmington.”
“Radio shows often push the boundaries of humor to sophomoric ends,” continued the editorial. “But this attempt was racism.”
Not everyone agreed. One letter writer called the editorial “a ridiculous attempt to vilify Gary and to incite anger in our hyper-sensitive, politically correct world.”
And there it is: “Political correctness.” The bane of our 21st century existence.
“Political correctness is the biggest issue facing America today,” wrote USA Today’s Glenn Harlan Reynolds. “The ironic name disguises the real nature of this force, which ought to be called invasive leftism or thought-police liberalism or metastasized progressivism. The old-time American mainstream, working- and middle-class white males and their families, is mad as hell about political correctness and the havoc it has wreaked for 40 years — havoc made worse by the flat refusal of most serious Republicans to confront it.”
Until Donald Trump, that is.
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump said at the first Republican debate last year. “I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”
The concept of political correctness gained popularity in the 1970s and early 1980s with the increasing diversity of the American public and the understanding that language can foster bias.
“Linguistically it started as a basically idealistic, decent-minded, but slightly Puritanical intervention to sanitize the language by suppressing some of its uglier prejudicial features, thereby undoing some past injustices or ‘leveling the playing fields’ with the hope of improving social relations,” writes Geoffrey Hughes in his 2010 book Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture. In time, political correctness became “a misnomer, being concerned with neither politics nor correctness as those terms are generally understood.”
Donald Trump, for instance, has taken President Obama to task for his seemingly “PC” choice of words amidst crises.
“Last night, our nation was attacked by a radical Islamic terrorist,” Trump stated on his website after the Orlando night club atrocity. “In his remarks today, President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘radical Islam.’ For that reason alone, he should step down.”
On the surface, Obama’s refusal to pair the words “radical” and “Islam” appears overly cautious in the wake of such a horrific attack. But in reality, his carefully chosen words harken back to the original, constructive rationale for political correctness.
“We are not at war with Islam,” Obama explained. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam. These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.”
Counter to what many Americans believe, the vast majority of ISIS victims are Muslim: “In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 percent of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years,” according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.
Indeed, such was the case in the recent ISIS bombing in Baghdad: “As Iraq continues to reel from a bombing that killed more than 160 people, Muslims are reminding the world that the majority of ISIS’ victims are from the religion it claims to represent.”
Put simply, words matter. Obama’s refusal to say “radical Islam” was not pusillanimous pandering; rather, it was a deliberate choice intended to deny the terrorists credibility. It was common sense, not political correctness.
Admittedly, the fear of offending can get ridiculous. But blaming “hyper-sensitive political correctness” for the problems that divide America is a simple-minded response that ignores root causes. America does, in fact, remain divided and we must confront our differences — just as Gary Craig did when he ultimately apologized for his offensive video.
Given the recent race-related violence occurring elsewhere, Gary Craig’s video appears innocuous. But that’s just the point of political correctness: to recognize and avoid bigoted messages before they escalate into dangerous actions. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened in Hartford.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.