Enough: Where should line be drawn between free speech and political correctness?

By ELIJAH JONES,

I have always thought of myself as an analytical and, okay, opinionated person.  Some folks may not analyze every little event in their lives, the way I do. 

But when it comes to opinions, from race to religion, from the sexes to politics, our personal beliefs and opinions are pretty much set.  (Especially at my age.) 

That divergence of thought is what makes life in this world so interesting. 

These days however, talking out loud about how you feel on a particular issue, could land you in a tub filled with scalding-hot water. 

It's that whole political correctness thing, or PC, as it is called for short. 

But has PC speak gotten out of hand?   

In this new era of social media, we've become especially vulnerable.  I constantly find myself second-guessing most comments or observations, before I put them out there. 

I analyze each thought and choice of words as I prepare to express how I feel on this keyboard. 

No matter how innocent my intent, I'm thinking, are my comments going to come across as insensitive, racist, disrespectful of some group or...oh, the list goes on. 

These days, we have to watch every word, especially those words going outside our own close-knit circle of friends, landing for public consumption.  (Annoying, isn't it?)

I'm not always the most politically correct person. 

In fact, I frown on the whole language-police thing, deeming it necessary to watch everything I say.  Or, in the case of social media, every word I write. 

Something I might think is funny, the next person may find crass or mean-spirited. 

Can't anyone take a joke these days? 

I'm the first person to poke fun or laugh at myself.  (And certainly provide enough material.) 

But when did we become so ultra-sensitive about every little thing? 

Certainly, I'm glad we're working hard at becoming a more enlightened and sensitive society, but when those benevolent qualities begin to hinder our ability to speak freely and honestly, political correctness becomes a problem. 

I believe we're wise enough to know there are certain lines we should make an effort not to cross, ethnic slurs being among the more egregious. 

But in today's world, there are just so many ways to offend, even with the most benign intentions. 

It's like walking on eggshells, covering a bed of hot nails. 

We have to be especially careful not to offend.

I feel it's wrong when some public universities, in an effort to maintain the idea of political correctness, forbid certain lecturers from appearing on their campuses, simply because of a speaker's political persuasion. 

A couple of years ago, hundreds of protesters on the Berkeley campus of the University of California went berserk, crashing windows and setting fires on campus. 

All in protest of a far-right speaker, a news editor from the ultra-conservative Breitbart News scheduled to speak there.

Apparently, the university's famously-liberal campus wasn't going to stand for it. 

In what I thought was a cowardly act, U.C. Berkeley cancelled the speech. 

Oh, please!  Let the guy have his say.  Perhaps the university's decision was based more on safety concerns? 

But I say the protesters, themselves, are the ones who made the situation unsafe. 

There are proper ways to channel our anger or disagreements on issues but, and we should all agree, violence should never be the route taken to express that displeasure 

Whether they agreed or disagreed with the speaker's views, by behaving so dangerously, the protesters at U.C. Berkeley betrayed their own cause.  (How "politically correct" were their actions?)

If there's any place free speech should be encouraged, it's certainly on a university campus.  But what about attempts at quelling free speech? 

If you ask me, that seems to qualify as politically IN-correct, and every bit as wrong.  

Which brings me to a recent appearance by the nation's President, Donald Trump, at the historically African-American Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.

The college invited Mr. Trump to be its keynote speaker at their 2019 Second Step Presidential Forum, held last month. 

The landmark First Step Act, signed by Mr. Trump in 2018, was a bold action, addressing criminal justice reform here in the United States. 

The purpose of the forum was to discuss the "Second Step," as in where do we go from here. 

It should be noted, most of the Democratic candidates for President were also invited to attend and present their own proposals. 

I must admit, when I first heard about the forum, alarm bells went off in my head. 

Donald Trump speaking on the campus of a largely African-American college? 

Oh, my.  What could possibly go wrong?

In my head, I hoped for the best.  But I did fear any student protests that might result on campus while the President was visiting. 

According to most polls, Mr. Trump routinely garners only single-digit support among African-Americans.

I was afraid his appearance at Benedict College might have turned into an unpleasant one.  That is, considering some of the things Mr. Trump has said on the subject of race in the past. 

But here's the thing.

By design, Mr. Trump's speech was largely unattended by the college's students.  Columbia's Mayor, Stephen Benjamin, said most of those in attendance were hand chosen by the White House. 

Only seven students from the college were allowed to attend the President's speech. 

But wait, it gets even more curious. 

In conjunction with the Secret Service, classes were also cancelled and most students were, reportedly, asked to remain in their dorms while the President was on campus. 

The decision was said to be made for security reasons.

I find that all a bit strange.

We've seen Donald Trump's political rallies on television, where there're often tens of thousands in attendance. 

Are residents asked to "remain in their homes" because the President is in town, giving a speech? 

You'd think the Secret Service would be a lot more concerned with a public event like those huge rallies, than with safety concerns on the campus of a relatively small college. 

Sounds more to me like Benedict College officials, the White House and the powers that be, made a dedicated effort to make sure student voices were not heard while Mr. Trump was on campus.  Isn't the end result to stifle free speech? 

I'm guessing some of Benedict's students may have wanted to protest the President's appearance.  (And?)  By forbidding students from even leaving their dorm rooms, was it an effort to ensure there were no protests on campus? 

It smacks of, to me at least, a sideways form of censorship.  Like the officials at Berkeley behaved, it would be another example of political incorrectness.  . 

A tale of two colleges, and I don't agree with what happened on either campus. 

The protesters at U.C. Berkeley succeeded in making themselves look foolish.  I would expect many observers, myself included, were less likely to sympathize with their cause, as a result of their actions.

Likewise, those officials responsible for making sure student voices were not heard on the Benedict College Campus, while the President was there, behaved foolishly, too. What was the point?  To protect Mr. Trump? 

I'd say, the goal of the day was designed to insulate him.

Both incidents come across as attempts at controlling the narrative, silencing the voices of those they don't agree with, or want to hear from.  

The protesters at U.C. Berkeley didn't want to hear what the Brietbart reporter had to say.  But what about those people on campus who did? 

On the same plain, the White House went out of its way to keep Mr. Trump enclosed in his airtight and sealed bubble, so he doesn't have to see or hear from those people who disapprove of his job as President. 

Free speech. 

Political correctness. 

Censorship. 

Where do we draw the line? 

It's easy to see how blurred things can become when those lines intersect.  

Elijah Jones is a writer and a proud graduate of the Hattiesburg Public School System and the University of Southern Mississippi. Send him an email (or seven or eight) at: edjhubtown@aol.com