Hate Speech and Jokes

When it comes to real life issues, arguments about political correctness seem pretty pointless.

A reporter called me today and asked for my opinion about a local controversy. An auto shop posted ‘Clown Lives Matter’ as a joke on their sign. The reporter asked if I thought the backlash against the sign represented ‘political correctness gone too far.’

My response: this isn’t about political in/correctness at all. And this is most certainly not about me, one white guy, speaking on behalf of the black community — as if one person’s comments somehow legitimize or delegitimize the reactions of others!

It all boils down to this: when I hear other people say they are offended by something, I can either decide to listen to their perspective or not. Personally, I choose to listen. Taking the time to listen has nothing to do with ‘political correctness.’ Listening is just acknowledging that other people have had different experiences than I have had; hearing someone else is to recognize that I don’t have the whole picture. I can either ignore other people’s stories and insist that because I’m not offended, nobody else should be, either. Or I can sit down and do my best to try to understand why another group finds something appalling, threatening, or insulting.

Let’s stop talking about whether ‘political correctness’ is good or bad. Let’s start talking about the values of empathy and openness to learn. Let’s start talking about the purpose of protecting free expression in society. Let’s listen.

When one person’s joke is another person’s hate speech, it seems pretty evident to me that a lot of us aren’t listening to one another.