Is political correctness fluent

Political CorrectnessLanguage Censorship or Linguistic Civilization?

The Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne is one of the largest ethnographic museums in the republic. It is a place where you can clearly see how the German public's view of other continents and other cultures has changed.

Twenty years ago, there were dusty paper mache figures in museums like this one that were supposed to represent some unknown savage. Today, cultural treasures are shown with respect for foreign worlds. The Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum could also be called a place where Political Correctness is produced.

Clara Himmelträger is the head of the Africa department.

"We are in the department 'The Disguised View, Cliché and Prejudice'. From the outside it looks like an old shabby container. And when you walk in, you should imagine that you are in the head of a member of the white majority society . And there are lots of images projected on the walls, images that members of the white majority society often have in their heads when it comes to the subject of Africa, Africans or black Germans. "

This room is called the "cliché container" by the museum staff. Himmelhub cites the example of the "Wild Horde".

"So if you watch films, then - actually until today - the protagonists of the films are quite often whites, even if they are set in Africa. And the Africans only appear as so-called wild hordes, that is, in large groups, singing, dancing, screaming, armed with spears, while the speaking roles and the central roles are taken by white protagonists. "

Prejudices are shown and broken down in the cliché container

Doors are set into the walls of the cliché container, they can be opened - and a completely different image of people in or from Africa then appears there.

"You can then look behind your cliché and see the opposite images."

If you open the little door behind an illustration of the song "Ten Little Niggers", young black people speak there:

"Six little negroes, they went into the swamp, one of them got stuck in there, there were only five left. When I came to Germany for the first time, the only three words I could understand were: yes, no, and niggers ... "

The cliché container in Cologne is used to work on cultural symbols, images and language. Racism is supposed to be "expelled" here. A student from Freiburg just looked at the cliché container.

"I am impressed by the container, I like it very much. Because you get to see the various racisms that you may not even be aware of in everyday life. By opening the door and the opposite side you have such an aha-effect. "

In the past few years, the racism discussion in Germany has come together in the dispute over the term "negro".

"Well, I myself have already said to older people that one no longer says negro. But I have had the experience that other people - or people who use the word, do not like to be taught."

Many people find such a policy of signs and language to be unreasonable. They feel that their own use of language is natural and normal, and that other uses of language are artificial and abnormal. The employees of the Cologne Ethnographic Museum hope for an understanding:

"We deliberately did not use the N-word in the container, but always wrote 'N-Punkt-Punkt'. There are many of our older visitors who then say: why? because - it makes you think when you have an N with three dots. Even if some of our visitors think that's stupid - they first realize that there could be a problem and that you can talk about it, and in this one Let's hope that we can make a difference. "

Colonialism also affected the language

The museum also shows the children's book, in which the stanzas of the "Ten Little Niggers" appeared for the first time in German: It is a book from the year of the Congo Conference in Berlin, 1885, at which the Europeans divided Africa. It was written and printed to spread the attitude that Africa simply had to be colonized, explains Clara Himmelträger.

"And that makes such a supposedly harmless song no longer quite so harmless."

Tahir Della speaks for the Black People's Initiative in Germany.

"Well, I've been active in the political movement of the ISD, the black community, for 30 years, and what you can clearly see is that a change of perspective is already underway to the effect that more and more attention is paid to the voice of those affected , the perspectives of those affected, the demands of those affected are being taken more seriously. It is becoming increasingly common that people at least include the fact that it is important to hear us and also to see the extent to which there are blind spots in society. "

For decades, Della's initiative has been fighting for Germany to come to terms with its colonial past and recognize the colonial traces in the language.

Della speaks a little cautiously about whites who make themselves advocates for blacks. Of course, solidarity with the struggle of blacks is important, but there is also paternalism in solidarity:

"This is also another understanding of roles, that when white speaks for black, for example, that it also depicts such a power imbalance, so to speak, that we are incapacitated in these discourses. We strongly advocate that we speak for ourselves, that our voice is heard, and when white people deal with society in a way that is critical of racism and also support our theses, so to speak, then that is of course permissible. Of course, we do not want to speak for us or speak about ourselves. "

As Della says, there is overall progress. But:

"And the debates here are also very much shaped by the fact that the majority society wants to define how racism is talked about, how racism is negotiated in Germany, and that the perspective of those affected usually falls behind."

AfD stylizes political correctness as a kind of curse of modernity

Like the disabled, gays and lesbians in Germany, black people are among the minorities who have fought for rights and respect over the past decades - following the historical model of the largest "minority": women. How much and what kind of respect is right and appropriate - the ambiguous concept of political correctness applies to this question. With the AfD and the pegidistic rioters of the last two years, there is now a complete movement including party that thinks: It is too much. The speakers at AfD and Pegida stylize political correctness as a kind of curse of modernity:

"A powerful language and opinion police have brought it to the point that the boundaries within which we are allowed to think, write and speak politically correctly are tightened more and more ..."

But even intellectuals who don't let any Pegida dictate the issues to them have already thought about whether the culture of political correctness has contributed to right-wing populism currently booming in open, democratic societies. A few days after Donald Trump's election victory, the New York political scientist Mark Lilla wrote a highly acclaimed essay. In it Lilla stated:

"In recent years American left-wing liberalism has fallen into a kind of moral panic over questions of ethnic, gender and sexual identity, which has distorted its message and thus denied it the opportunity to become a unifying force capable of governing."

In other words: The left-wing liberals, with their desire to do culturally and politically justice to all minorities, made Trump possible in the first place. In the feature sections of the USA and half of Europe there has been a discussion since then as to whether a left-liberal elite revolves too much around niche problems. Nonsense, however, many say: You shouldn't play the game of the right and denigrate your own anti-discrimination policy.

The History of Political Correctness

The term Political Correctness was created for this purpose in the early 1990s: as a fighting term for conservative circles. It was a defensive term, it was directed against a new way of thinking at universities - initially in the USA. Because at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, teaching and learning material came under criticism at US universities. The junior academy declared, "Your science is that of old white men and colonizers, and so is your language. We require that books be read by women, that books be read by blacks - and that we talk about it that way the perspective of the oppressed appears in it. "

This impulse to fight racism, colonialism and sexism in research, teaching and language spread to the German universities - and they also took over the discussion about political correctness. As in the US, the debate quickly seeped out of the colleges and into the wider public.

It was the morality of this demand that in turn caused outrage: Lieschen Müller instead of Thomas Mann? Should knowledge and history be devalued here under the guise of emancipation? In this respect, the Germanized term "politically correct" was intended from the outset as a contrast to "scientifically correct" and "artistically beautiful".

"It is actually very difficult to say again and again in the debate: Can we criticize language in such a way that it is not about our personal political opinions, but that it is actually about the use of language."

Language criticism and bad word of the year

This is an important reason why the Darmstadt linguist Nina Janich prefers to call what she does "language criticism" rather than "political correctness". Janich has been part of the group of linguists who have chosen the so-called "Unword of the Year" for 20 years. They want to show how social thinking is reflected in a questionable way in language usage. In the past two or three years, says Janich, the submitted suggestions have mainly come from one corner:

"And more and more closely in relation to the whole AfD, Pegida, refugee debate in general - that's a clear trend."

The word "do-gooder", for example, which is supposed to make other people's commitment to human rights or environmental protection contemptible, has been in the top ten for years, and in 2015 it made it to number one. Janich is puzzled by the violence with which a certain part of the population refuses to discuss how language use and political thinking are related.

"First of all, of course, you can't always pay close attention to what you say and how in every day-to-day situation - there must also be the opportunity to revise or say something, right ... It's about the situation. But very important: There is a difference whether I'm trying to articulate my opinion in a personal conversation - and someone says you can't say that and then they talk about it. (...) But if a politician or someone who is prominent and has the opportunity to make a statement to give - he should already have so much responsibility that he thinks carefully about what he is saying beforehand. "

Anyone who insists on saying things that hurt others should take into account the law of all communication: meaning is always established by the sender and recipient.

"Of course you can say that I meant it differently, but you have to expect the other to say: But you said it that way. The other is part of the process of creating meaning. we didn't want that either - and yet it is your fault and you have to take responsibility. "

But it is not the normal rear-end collisions that are currently dominating the debate, says the Munich social scientist Armin Nassehi.

"I am assuming that we are currently experiencing a kind of culture war - namely a culture war over appropriate ways of speaking. At the moment I experience this as a kind of countermovement against worlds that are too complex."

It is noticeable here, says Nassehi, that the political-social right, with all its criticism of political correctness, is following the same pattern of language and identity politics as the left. While the left strives for a language of respect for the "other", the right creates a language of the "own" - think of the joy of the words "people" or "völkisch".

"Almost everything on both sides is about language politics."

The new rights have recognizable problems to define what is "their own". But the left, university spectrum also had to put up with being asked when identity politics in language would take over.

"If we alone are discussing the question of how to change language appropriately, for example. That is also an interesting question in practical terms. Nobody can seriously say today that it is appropriate to completely do without gender, but I also think that there are exaggerated ways of doing that ... "

Politically correct gender

The role that gender has to play in language has been controversial for decades: Should women feel that they are meant when they are meant? In the meantime, the form of address has prevailed: citizens, students. The ways of speaking and writing are currently being negotiated when people feel addressed as neither women nor men. For the community of non-heterosexuals, for example, the series of abbreviations LGBT - for English lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - is beginning to prevail.

"If there is something problematic about this PCness, it is this: That you no longer speak freely, but that you have to be constantly afraid that the sentence you say means a lot more than you actually meant. That is a Balance. And I believe that times have become more difficult to balance because we have this culture war right now. "

Manners of speech can also be neurotic

But it is not just negotiating that has become more difficult. The formation of identities in groups and subgroups is also progressing rapidly in terms of language. Is there a point at which the purpose of language - i.e. exchange, understanding between people - is threatened?

"As we know, the transition between self-consciousness and neurosis is fluid. If the only way of speaking is to present one's own position, then such speaking styles can of course become neurotic."

Neither Nassehi nor any of the other professors interviewed in Germany believe that the discussion in their seminars is already neurotic. Other voices can be found in the USA. Jocelyn Holland, professor of German studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara, is of the opinion that the culture of political correctness tends to steer students away from the material rather than enabling and improving their insight into literature.

"If you look at political correctness as a kind of tool, it can of course be very useful. Of course, it's always good to have a little more empathy with others. But when you talk about a culture of political correctness, then I see things a little different - because this culture becomes oppressive very quickly. If you are afraid of the tool - then it's kind of not a useful tool anymore, I mean. "

Holland is irritated by the way the criticism of books, of the selection of literature, has taken. It is no longer a question of whether a male white heterosexual worldview disregards all other conceivable worldviews. Rather, the criticism of many students of the material amounts to the fact that they do not find themselves in it and that this is a kind of insult or even an injury. A literature professor who, like Holland, devotes herself to the 18th and 19th centuries, confronts this with unsolvable tasks.

"One problem is that you identify with everything. I see that above all in my students and also through other examples in the US. The students just have to learn not to see themselves everywhere in what they are reading, or in the films they are watching for the film course. As a professor, I notice that, they tell me: 'I can't relate to that.' Well, you don't always have to do that with every text in every case - but that this is a precondition, a prerequisite for learning something, I find somehow insane. "

Of successes and excesses

In the discussion about literature and science, efforts to avoid racist or other hurtful stereotypes have of course been great successes, but also excesses, says the Mainz sociologist Stefan Hirschauer. That is a bit in the nature of things:

"In principle, this civilization process cannot be completed.As the pacification of our language increases, so do the standards for aggressive speaking, i.e. sensitivities. Against this background, efforts to avoid discrimination since the 1990s have repeatedly turned into claims for general exoneration. "

The struggle for political correctness will not end because society will change language too. With some linguists and sociologists it can certainly be formulated that a dispute over words is always an expression of a democracy in which there can be no mandatory language requirements. Tahir Della from Initiative Black People says:

"I always think that it is important to see that such self-descriptions are never set in stone. That means, it is always in motion. We ourselves developed terms like 'Afro-German' in the 80s; meanwhile it is it is more like 'black people in Germany'. Such terms are always in flux, always in motion. The easiest thing is always to ask the people themselves how they want to be called themselves. "

The Munich sociologist Armin Nassehi recommends:

"... to answer with irony. So - not to make things ridiculous, but possibly to point out that ways of speaking ... are ways of speaking."