Lately, I’ve noticed people are starting to voice their weariness of PC culture. Sometimes I overhear others lightly talking about how everyone is “too sensitive nowadays” and they can’t just “take a joke” or something in that manner. I find these comments naïve and elementary. They are conducted as if words and actions do not hold meaning, history, and deeply rooted connotations. But I’m writing to say that the truth is, we do not live in a vacuum. Maybe if we did, then PC culture would be pointless and irrelevant. But our world is filled with all these cultural and social pasts that mold our ideas and interpretations of words, objects, and symbols. Is that too broad of a statement? Basically, what I’m trying to say is that nothing is just simply one thing. There are always multiple meanings that hold weight. We are not free from the systems that have created us, and we can never get out of them.
For example, I recently saw a post by Katelyn Ohashi, a well-known UCLA gymnast, on Instagram. She is wearing braids, which is traditionally an African American hairstyle. My initial gut reaction to the picture I viewed was that something was wrong. Obviously, the first words that popped into my head were “cultural appropriation.” Then, I made the mistake of reading the comments. Some people pointed out her cultural appropriation, but many people also went on to defend her saying “hair is just hair.” That’s what really got to me. Because hair is not just hair. Especially when it comes to women of color. There’s so much I could say about hair. For years, women of color have been forced to change their hair or mask it in order to be accepted. The texture of their hair does not allow for them to meet socially constructed, westernized beauty standards. Women of color have had no option but to create their own culture of hair reserved for those that understand and acknowledge the oppressiveness that it has come from. Hair also has long been a symbol of change. We see this in popular culture, with the symbolic act of a woman cutting off her hair to make a pivotal transformation in her identity. Or we look at status and the ways in which hair must be tied up for certain positions, that require more manual work. And we can even reach as far as the somewhat cheesy and hackneyed scene of the girl who always wears her hair up and finally takes it out to dramatically, in slow motion shake it out from her ponytail to reveal a new, more fun, less conservative woman. See, hair is not just hair, and this comment of hair merely being hair only works if we exist outside of social and cultural contexts… which we cannot do!
This honestly just frustrates me more and more when I hear naïve comments about our culture being too politically correct. Like when has being correct ever been something negative? Isn’t this the whole notion of progress? Aren’t we always striving to be better, more genuine, moral, just, and empathetic people? Well if not you, then at least I am.
This is why I love PC culture…it keeps me on my toes.
See the thing is, it doesn’t really matter if something isn’t offensive to you. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what your intent is. If it’s offensive to someone else, even just one person, then it is offensive. Perspective is reality. Yes, perspective is reality. If one person finds something offensive, then in their reality it is offensive, and it is damn hard to change someone’s reality. So if in your reality, certain hair styles relate to oppression and finding ways to navigate within an oppressive system, then you will most likely find it offensive if someone tries to co-opt that hair style. In this sense, PC culture keeps me on my toes because it forces me to see things from outside my own lens. I’m pushed to take a step back and view a broader picture of the world that is more than just the one that I paint for myself.