Politically Correct is Respect

If I had a nickel for every time someone deemed me as “too PC,” I’d be a very rich woman. Political correctness basically means that, before you open your mouth, you consider how your words will impact others (i.e. racism, sexism, etc.). You’re thoughtful, and you realize that words are not simply a meaningless conglomeration of letters and sounds.

Of course, nobody’s perfect. Most have, at some point in their lives, made a problematic comment that they probably regret. But imperfection is never an excuse to perpetuate oppression. Because we were all socialized in a racist, cishet patriarchal society, it’s important to constantly check and learn from one’s behavior. We have a collective responsibility to create a world that recognizes the full humanity of all people.

Being “politically correct,” though, is generally not celebrated nor encouraged. Typically used as a pejorative, the phrase “PC culture” has been routinely implemented to delegitimize marginalized populations’ experiences and efforts to dismantle oppressive systems. Although we generally think of conservative, right-wing public figures as the main disparagers of political correctness, white, male, liberal individuals also use this damaging rhetoric.

Jerry Seinfeld made headlines a couple years ago for vowing not to perform at “PC colleges.”

“I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me: ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC,’” he said. “They just want to use these words: ‘that’s racist,’ ‘that’s sexist,’ ‘that’s prejudiced.’ They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”

Apparently Seinfeld, a rich, white man, is the arbiter on what constitutes as racist, sexist or prejudiced. College students, many of which are people of color and women who experience racism and sexism on a daily basis, know what we’re talking about due to lived experiences those with privileged identities simply cannot relate to.

Additionally, Bill Maher, who has consistently opposed “PC culture,” recently received criticism for having Milo Yiannopoulos on his show Real Time with Bill Maher for normalizing the former editor of Breitbart, a right-wing media company known for publishing racist, sexist, transphobic content.

Language is central to how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. Words have consequences. They can be used for good—creating a healthy dialogue meant to advance social change. Conversely, language can also reinforce power structures. Offensive rhetoric that targets marginalized populations should be viewed as unacceptable and harmful, not simply a difference of opinion.

Street Harrassment

Eyes straight ahead. Keys firmly clutched in hand, pepper spray ready. Headphones in, music on mute. Keep walking. Stay brisk—don’t slow down.

The sun is setting. Franklin Street is suddenly bathed in a warm, glowing light. You allow yourself to briefly relax, a moment to take in the picturesque scene before you. A male pedestrian asks you a question.

Ignore. Continue walking. A group of women across the street catch your eye. Cross the road. Walk behind them.

Finally, you arrive at your destination—you can breathe, a sigh of momentary relief before you soon must leave again.

This script is repeated over and over and over again, no matter the time or place.

Go out in groups.

Carry a pocketknife.

Always stay alert, never let your guard down.

Check, check, check.

If someone attacks you, it’s because you missed something. A slip-up. You’re targeted with questions.

Why’d you wear that?

Can’t you take a compliment?

Why were you out so late?

When arriving at UNC-Chapel Hill, incoming students are told that Chapel Hill is the Southern Part of Heaven—a safe, fun, inclusive haven where you can freely learn and grow. For many students, though, this promise rings hollow.

This insidious, constantly unsafe feeling in public spaces is characterized by street harassment—sexual harassment in public spaces, including catcalling, stalking, touching without consent, etc.

Street harassment is incredibly prevalent. In a study conducted by Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, and Cornell University, researchers found that 29 percent of those who shared their experiences of street harassment on Hollaback!’s website were physically touched in a public space without their consent, while 57 percent were subject to verbal harassment.

On college campuses, harassment has other implications, too. The threat of street harassment often will dissuade women from studying in a library late due to fear of walking home late at night, negatively impacting academics. According to Hollaback!, 67 percent of students experienced harassment on campus, 61 percent witnessed another student being harassed on college campus, and only 18 percent of students had not experienced or witnessed harassment on campus. Hollaback! Also found that a staggering 46 percent of students said harassment caused disappointment with college experience.

I can recall multiple times in which I simply decided to remain in my dorm to complete assignments during the evening, even though I focus significantly better in a quiet, studious library—a choice male students, specifically cis, white, heterosexual men, rarely have to consider.

Women and other marginalized folks should be able to freely exist and move around in the world without fear of potential bodily, mental, and emotional harm.

Existence is Resistance

This article was originally written following the presidential election of 2016. It has been re-published here due to its present relevance. 

 

The Results

Three women sit cross-legged on the floor of a 6×10 dorm room in Ehringhaus Residence Hall on UNC-Chapel Hill’s south campus. They eagerly watch a laptop screen, eyes glued to the interactive electoral map on CNN. As the numbers begin to roll in, their excitement quickly turns to dread. It slowly becomes clear the outcome they envisioned for Nov. 8, 2016 will not be realized.

Once the final results are called, time stops.

Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States of America. Reality sinks in.

The friends embrace one another as shocked sobs roll through their bodies. Shouts of victory reverberate from the adjacent room, confirming their fears.

How fitting, sophomore Laura Duque thought. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supporters literally divided by a concrete wall.

“In the one room, there was us, the Latinas, and in the next room there were Trump supporters,” she said. “Us crying in the one room, and the Trump supporters cheering in the next room.”

Duque, her sister and her friend sat together for hours. Slowly watching as the votes came in, state by state.

“It felt like when you’re at the top of a rollercoaster just counting the seconds before the big drop,” first-year Caroline Duque, Duque’s sister, said.

Duque, a *Latinx activist at UNC-CH as co-chair of Students United for Immigration Equality (SUIE), a Campus Y committee, isn’t alone.

Since President-Elect Donald Trump won, defeating former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College by 74 votes, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, many Americans have taken to social media, the streets and college campuses to express shock, outrage and terror over the president-elect’s victory.

Walking Out

The next day, Duque didn’t hesitate. As an activist, she said she felt compelled to do something. When the Campus Y, UNC-CH’s center for social justice, organized a campus wide walkout that Wednesday to provide students with a space to tell their stories and express their emotions following the election, Duque chose to participate.

“Safe space.”

These two words echo across the quad at 2:00 p.m. A promise for those who speak. A microphone stand sits in front of South Building.

If today were an ordinary Wednesday, most of this crowd would be in class. But, for many students, today is far from ordinary.

“After the election, I expected the whole world to stop,” Duque said.

But, despite feelings of anxiety and fear, she kept going and immediately took action.

Hundreds of students, faculty and community members of all races, ethnicities and gender identities, fill the space. Some hug one another, link arms. Others cry and wipe away tears.

A long line of a diverse group of students snakes around South Building to the front of the Campus Y.

“Regan and I woke up on Nov. 9 and felt like the campus should have a chance to voice their upset, fears and worries—a kind of catharsis,” Lauren Eaves, co-president for the Campus Y, said.

Duque stands in line, readying herself to talk in front of the vast crowd before her. Her body shakes as she meticulously recites lines in her mind. She hates public speaking.

“In that moment, I didn’t even look at the crowd,” she said. “Everything went blank, and I just wanted everyone to hear me. When else was I going to have this opportunity?”

After listening to two students share their stories, she slowly, hesitantly approaches the microphone. Tears stream down her face as her friend rubs her back. She speaks of her father.

“All he could say last night was ‘te amo’,” she says through broken sobs.

“I love you” in Spanish.

“I was terrified and really emotional,” she said. “But there was something within me that said you have to go out there. The little activist in me was like ‘you have to go’.”

“When Laura spoke, I felt so proud of her for sharing her personal story with so many people,” Campus Y co-president Regan Buchanan said. “And I felt deeply angered and saddened that she had to experience so much fear because of our nation’s failures.”

Afraid

Duque is one of countless Latinx students at UNC-CH who fear that a Trump administration will inflict violence on their communities. Trump has advocated for a wall between the U.S.’s and Mexico’s border, as well as mass deportation of immigrants and elimination of sanctuary cities and campuses that aim to protect undocumented folks from being deported.

“It’s no longer just about political affiliations,” Duque said. “This is a person who tolerates and advocates for hate.”

A few weeks ago, Duque visited her home in Durham, North Carolina. After dinner one night, she went outside. Looking ahead, she immediately froze.

“I’m just there, taking out the trash, and I see them,” she said.

Two white neighbors, a woman and a man wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, casually jog by, laughing.

“That is scary,” she said. “I automatically felt unsafe.”

She wonders how Trump will “Make America Great Again.” More like, “Make America Hate Again.”

Growing Up

Duque’s family immigrated to the United States from Cali, Colombia when she was 10-years-old. She’s lived from coast to coast—in Georgia, California and, now, North Carolina.

“I cried a lot the week before we left Cali because I knew everything would change,” Duque said. “I’d never been outside the country. It was a huge culture shock.”

Elementary school is hard enough without having to learn through a language barrier and taunting from students for being different.

“To this day, even the smell of elementary school floors makes me cringe,” Duque said. “I automatically think about the kids who called me weird or dumb for not knowing how to speak English.”

Her story is one of relative privilege—a narrative not often told when pundits and politicians discuss this prevalent political issue. Her parents moved her and her younger sisters to the U.S. to pursue master’s degrees about a decade ago.

Duque’s family came from an upper middle class background, allowing them to have resources needed to apply get an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, a costly process. Then, an appointment is selected and one has to let the embassy know why they wish to immigrate. Thankfully, her parents were both educated, wanted to pursue higher education and therefore were able to obtain their visas.

“I didn’t really understand my own privilege and what that meant,” Duque said. “The fact that I was able to come here under the circumstances that I did is quite a privilege because not a lot of people get to do that.”

This perspective has challenged her to recognize how others’ walks of life differ from her own.

“It’s not fair that just because my parents came from privileged background, they had the chance to come here safely, but other people don’t,” Duque said.

An Intricate System

Immigration is complex, she says. No single story can encompass 11.4 million currently undocumented immigrants living in a country.

“Growing up here, I’ve met a lot of people whose families had come here without documents because they were fleeing violence or drug cartels,” Duque said. “There were no job opportunities for them—the poverty level was really high in their countries. I knew that I had to talk about this because not a lot of people know about the immigration system and how it works.”

Although Duque has a green card and is a permanent resident, an obtained status that involved a long, arduous process, which spanned a total of three years, she is not yet a full citizen. In five years, she will be eligible to take the United States citizenship test. And that comes with a cost.

“Because I’m not a citizen, I can’t vote,” Duque says. “I had no influence or control over this election that will have a complete influence over my, my family’s and my friends’ lives.”

According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, 13.3 million permanent residents live in the U.S. Duque is one of these Americans.

Being a permanent resident allows Duque and her family to live, attend school and work in the United States without immediate repercussions. However, this status does not guarantee complete safety.

“If you commit certain crimes or security violations, or even fail to advise USCIS of your changes of address, you can be placed in removal proceedings and deported from the United States,” according to AllLaw.com.

A lack of security and feelings of discrimination motivated Duque to become involved with organizing efforts on campus her first year.

“I didn’t choose activism, it just kind of happened,” Duque said. “I’ve always felt discriminated against. Whenever my parents and I would go out, because they speak broken English, I’d feel embarrassed because I would have to translate for them and people would always look at us like we weren’t normal. They were treated like crap.”

“I felt like the xenophobia was in the air,” she said. “I had to do something about this.”

Moving Forward

Following Trump’s win, activists like Duque are forced to grapple with many questions. How do groups create change under this administration? With a hostile political climate and hate crimes against people of color on the rise, what happens next?

These worries are at the forefront of Duque’s mind. As an immigrant and activist Latina woman, though, Duque remains determined and steadfast to protect her community.

After the election, SUIE immediately went into planning mode.

“First, we’re going to recognize that Trump is not our president and will never be our president,” Duque said.

“The side that won basically told us that we are less than human, and we’re not going to stand for it,” Duque said. “We’re definitely going to take a defensive approach.”

“She always wants to do more and more with SUIE, and I admire that about her,” Diana Marquez, Duque’s SUIE co-chair, said.

The day after Trump’s inauguration, the organization is planning an event in the Pit called “Pie Trump.”

Students will be encouraged to throw a pie at a cutout of Trump’s face. During the event, SUIE will collect donations for a scholarship fund for undocumented students.

“I also want to display immigrants’ stories all over campus,” Duque said. “We have an idea to put shoes all over the Pit to tell immigrant stories.”

“I want people to understand what it’s like to live in an immigrant’s shoes,” Marquez said.

SUIE will also hold a panel of immigration lawyers for the community and students to voice concerns and ask questions.

The plan is to provide folks with resources and preparation just in case for the worst, Duque said.

“This is a really scary time for a lot of immigrants in this country,” Duque said.

Hate and Hope

The vast building looms in front of her. Its history, tradition and power causes her to catch her breath.

The White House.

Duque was there for a World AIDS Day event as part of her campus organizing work with Advocates for Youth, a sexual health nonprofit.

After walking through airport-like security, her two friends are given green passes with silver chains to wear around their necks, displaying their names and photos. Duque’s pass is pink. Her stomach drops.

“Oh wow,” she thought. “Everyone know my status now. Everyone knows that I’m not a citizen.”

A secret service officer peppers her with questions and commands.

“Okay,” he said. “You can all go in except for you.”

He points at Duque.

“You need to be personally escorted into the White House,” he tells her.

Her friends try to defend her. “Why can’t she go with us?” they ask.

“This is between her and the White House,” he said.

His cold demeanor washes over Duque.

“He stared at us like we were nothing,” she said. “It was like ‘what are you doing here?’”

Trump’s America, Duque thought.

Eventually, Duque is able to call a point of contact at Advocates for Youth. It was worth the wait. She heard countless stories from activists that inspired her.

“We’ve done a lot during this administration,” she said. “If we were able to do that, that shows me that even though there’s still a lot of work to do, there’s a lot of people who are willing to do it. That gives me hope.”

Hope may seem futile during this time. But Duque says she’ll continue to fight in this movement and embrace her identities.

“Even existence is resistance,” she said.

 
*Latinx is commonly used in this community in order to represent gender inclusivity.