CNN commentator, Sally Kohn, discussed the relevance and value of political correctness during her speech to students and faculty in the John Cranford Adams Playhouse on Wednesday, Sept. 21. She assured naysayers that her intentions are not to restrict people’s First Amendment rights, but to create a more inclusive world.
“A friend of mine was just telling me about how his 3 year old boy says he wants to be Hillary Clinton when he grows up,” Kohn said when she came to Hofstra University on Wednesday. “Whatever your politics, I hope people can see in that what a powerful potential inversion it is. It’s amazing that my daughter wants to grow up and be Michelle Obama. For a white kid to grow up having a black role model is not an experience we’ve had for the vast majority of American history. I take great hope from that.”
Ranked the 35th most influential LGBT person in the media by The Advocate and one of the 100 most influential pundits on television by Mediaite, Kohn is a highly recognized figure. She was a talking head on FOX and a featured writer in The Washington Post, New York Times, New York magazine, More magazine, RollingStone.com, Elle.com, USA Today, TIME, AFAR magazine and more. Kohn currently works for CNN and is a columnist for the Daily Beast reporting on politics, social welfare, and other current issues.
“Her argument wasn’t an attack on free speech, but a criticism on the content of hate speech. She makes the point that while the government protects the unalienable right to free speech, it does not protect you from the repercussions of bigotry,” said Sarah Puckett, a sophomore film major.
In a sit-down interview, Kohn spoke with The Chronicle about how political correctness – defined as the avoidance of terms that are perceived to exclude or insult marginalized groups – has evolved over past elections.
“Political correctness is one of the buzzwords of this election. It is the latest linguistic turn of phrase in the long republican racially-coded dog whistle politics of the last 50 or so years,” Kohn said.
Kohn explained the ways in which past presidents have used terms to get their messages across without coming off as racist or bigoted.
“Nixon couldn’t outwardly oppose racial segregation so he opposed ‘bussing.’ That was his message. That was his dog whistle. Reagan couldn’t outwardly critique and demean black people, but he talked about welfare queens in the south side of Chicago, and he didn’t need to say they were black because you know who lives in the south of Chicago and it’s a coded dog whistle,” said Kohn. “You don’t hear it, but everyone who is supposed to hear it, hears it. They hear it and get the message. Now, thankfully, you can no longer say those things. We know what those mean.”
Kohn went on to explain that the term “political correctness” is the dog whistle of the 2016 election cycle.
“The latest conservative incarnation is to talk about political correctness … the implicit whistle to white folks is you’re having something taken away from you by these people of color, women and immigrants who are not equal to you, but are only getting what they’re getting because of this unfair political correctness thing, which by the way, is untrue. This is a way to divide the American people from actually working together to create an economy that works for all,” Kohn said.
“With everything going on about Donald Trump’s rhetoric, I appreciated Sally Kohn’s speech because you don’t hear a lot of people talking about political correctness,” said Kristen Simon, a junior public relations major. “We especially need to talk about it on campus. Talking with students here is a headache. It’s heartbreaking hearing what my peers have to say about different religions, races and LGBT rights.”
Kohn made her partisan alignment clear, taking a hard stand with the Democratic Party. As her speech was politically motivated, she made several claims about the roots of conservatism.
“I don’t believe conservatives would agree with Kohn’s statements regarding their party being built on the foundations of oppression. There are many different ways to look at the oppression of the past and I believe both parties played a role in it,” said Bibiana Bogues, a senior public relations major.
As political correctness revolves around the concept of identity and understanding our differences, Kohn placed heavy emphasis on how being conscious of our identity as well as the identity of others may help lead to more appropriate conversations.
“I’m sure there are ways that my identity has impacted me negatively and positively. I’m sure that unbeknownst to me, I faced discrimination … I believe in the statistics … You’ll see five white guys and a woman of color on a TV news panel. I’ll hear people gripe and say they put her on because they needed a person of color and a woman. But then what about the five white guys? If we’re looking at the odds, the odds are they also got their seats because of race and gender. We have to start inverting the way we think about it,” Kohn said.
Kohn also explained how she views her own identity as a lesbian woman and how she believes it affects her life.
“I try to think of identity as a positive thing, and in my life it has been. This is both because I was fortunate enough as to have an incredibly supportive family from the moment I came out, but also because it’s given me a way to try to understand the experiences of others,” Kohn commented.
Kohn offered a solution to tensions in the way society communicates, highlighting that understanding where each other’s feelings stem from is necessary to move forward and solve problems.
“The key thing is to always remember that what people feel is valid … You can’t argue with [someone’s feelings], and you can’t say you shouldn’t feel that way. They’re not facts, but they’re inherently valid on their face even if I don’t feel the same things or draw the same conclusions you’re drawing based on those feelings,” Kohn said. “Often what happens in politics and in political debates is we tend to talk past one another’s feelings and we argue about conclusions drawn from [them] as if they invalidate those feelings, when the simple fact is that we need to start by trying to understand where each other are coming from.”