Like so many other traditions, the burning of the bruin was put on the chopping block recently. The long running University of Southern California spirit activity consisted of throwing a large stuffed bear in a bon fire the night before the football game against their rival, the University of California at Los Angeles. The Black Student Union and other student organizations recently questioned the event. Their concern was that the event too closely resembled past lynching of African Americans in the American south.
This raises the question of whether it is appropriate to censor ideas that are not created to offend certain groups. Political correctness, the underlying ideal, is the “particular set of attitudes about the world that its proponents maintain should be actively promoted.” Clark 369 Proponents of political correctness, or PC, had good intentions in devising the idea, but it has serious flaws. Although political correctness was founded with good intent, it does more harm than good.
The most noticeable example of harm is how PC proponents try to please everyone at the same time. The burning of the bruin was just one of many activities held during the week before the big UCLA game. The idea being that everyone could find something that they could identify with and rally around their school. If the burning was intentionally created to represent or oppress the offended students, the event would have been banned long ago. However, as Matt Hutaff stated in his editorial in the Daily Trojan:
“It’s about school pride. It’s love for the things that brought the university to where it is today. It is traditions that define a school; it’s student body and its heritage. Strip the school of its traditions and all you have is a school that isn’t worth rallying behind.” 5
In appeasing one group, it seems the university neglected another group. It seems that the lesson that one cannot please everyone all the time still needs to be learned.
Another lesson that needs to be learned is to meet offensive language head on instead of hiding from it. This cannot happen, however, if the college is sheltering us from it. It is the duty of the university to teach us how to live in the real world. How are they going to protect us from what we do not want to hear out there? The answer is they cannot, and the sheltered individuals are left unprepared to confront real world situations that will offend them. As Irene Clark points out, an article by the National Association of Scholars “asserts that it is the role of higher education to enable students to grapple with contrary or unpleasant ideas and that to shield them from such ideas will be detrimental in the long run.” 373 Unfortunately, there are bad things in the world. There is no way to change that. Ignoring them will not make them go away. Eventually the sheltered must face them. If a school hides these things from its students, they will be unprepared to confront them.
Even if PC proponents succeeded in their goal of eliminating offensive actions and language, they can never kill the ideas behind them. In private these ideas can grow and fester unchecked. In public, the offenders can be identified. When forced to hide these ideas, the offenders will still express them in secret. When these people are allowed to express their thoughts and opinions in public, the rest of the world is able to watch what they are doing. If they are not aware that they are being offensive, they can be told, also.
As Irene Clark states:
“…whether or not we agree with speech codes, such codes, explicitly or implicitly, are not entirely new, nor do they prevent racist or sexist thought in private.” 372
As Clark stated earlier, PC is not a new idea. Various social movements have tried to implement this restraint before. It has not worked in the past and it is not gaining much grou…..nd today. As John Ellis states in Clark’s book:
“…we can ask that people who want to take us through the fantasy yet one more time first confront the lessons of history that show how disastrous ‘politically correct’ ideas have proved to be.” 378
PC was brought up in the past and failed. Its performance today is just as bad. It seems that history repeats itself.
History teaches us other lessons, too. One lesson is that our country is not perfect, and it makes mistakes. For example, Native Americans were forced to leave their land, and then the government sold that property. The Native Americans were treated like cattle in the name of imperialism, and the country called it “God’s will.” These “Indians,” as they were called, were my ancestors. It bothers me that my government could do such a thing. Should I protest a march or similar event? It very closely resembles my ancestor’s plight, but it is not about repression of Native Americans. Our country made many mistakes in the past, but we have all learned from them. We should not keep reliving and suffering from them by fearing every resemblance to the original act.
This brings up the fact that the burning of the bruin has only a vague resemblance to past hate crimes in the south. The resemblance would be more offensive if the toy was of human form. This is a teddy bear in question. It is preposterous to compare the personification of a toy animal to past crimes. An interesting fact is how the burning does not lead to violent actions against any real bears. If either of these happened, then there would be cause for worries.
For the defense of PC, however, the argument that the offensive language is distracting does have value. However, the problem with this argument is there are many things in life that are distracting. The best way to cope is to learn how to survive the hurtful speech and offensive actions. Gwen Thomas, a community college administrator, says in Clark’s book that we have to teach students how to deal with adversarial situations and how to survive offensive speech they find wounding and hurtful. 393 It may be distracting, but if we do not learn how to deal with hurtful speech we will remain in hiding which could harm us more.
Other things less related might come under attack as well. The next likely candidate to be cut is Tommy Trojan, the mascot of the school. As Matt Hutaff questions from a fictitious point of view of Tommy:
“I’m impossibly flexed in every muscle…a warrior, and…male. Sooner or later, that’s bound to catch up with me. I’ll probably be melted down…’Lumpy’ they’ll call me, the mascot of bland, unassuming and uninteresting icons that stir no emotion…in anyone.” 5
All it would take is one offended person and Tommy’s existence is in jeopardy. Nothing is sacred, and anything can come under scrutiny. As Hutaff worries, what will we have to rally around, and to have pride in? I hope we do not get that far.
In his book, 1984, George Orwell wrote of a nation, that eliminated all “unnecessary” words and actions. This government even went as far as to try to control thought. I am afraid that the PC movement will some day attempt this kind of act. I am also worried as to where this campaign will end. PC has already overstepped its original domain and attacked an act remotely related to the offensive actions PC was designed to fight.
The best thing to do now is for the PC proponents to step out of their situation and see that respect goes both ways. We cannot have everything manipulated to please each of us. When something offends us, we need to ask ourselves if it is offensive to anyone else. We also need to learn to face our fears, and learn to deal with acts and language that we do not like. Let us not take the same path past generations have taken. Let us take the good with the bad instead of ignoring the fact that the bad does exist.