While Americans may not realize it, their freedom to say what they want is slowly being eroded. This is not only due to the systematic effort by many on the left to chip away at their First Amendment rights (which require(s) state action). It is also a result of the Democrats’ continued efforts to re-define the type of speech/conduct that they deem to be “politically correct,” “inclusive,” and/or “not hurtful.” While there are obvious and serious political and/or social issues that must be addressed, political correctness is leading the nation down a slippery slope whereby our freedom to express ourselves is being censored. Americans cannot worry about being publicly shamed and labeled as sexist, politically insensitive, or non-inclusive based on Democrats’ subjective and constantly evolving interpretation of what type of speech is “politically correct” and/or “permissible.”
The most recent example involves the decision to rebrand the “Aunt Jemima” brand of syrup by Quaker Oats. As reported by NBC, citing Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America:
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”
As reported by Smithsonian Mag, “In 1989, Aunt Jemima’s appearance was updated—perhaps to avoid perpetuating the harmful “Mammy” stereotype that African American women were happy and loyal as slaves. Her head scarf was traded in for pearl earrings and a lace collar.”
Given the company’s ultimate goal of promoting racial equality, its decision is not necessarily illogical (and could be the right one) in this case. However, the company’s decision appears to be reactionary in nature and is consistent with an ongoing pattern in the United States whereby “political correctness” and the desire not to “offend” has reached a level which is almost impossible to comply with, unpredictable, and which has led many Americans to walk on egg shells before expressing themselves.
By way of example, the same company, Quaker Oats, was previously sued by the great-grandsons of Anna S. Harringon, who began playing Aunt Jemima in 1935. At the time, the company took a different position as to the “Aunt Jemima” label, noting that Aunt Jemima was not a real person and stating:
“The image symbolizes a sense of caring, warmth, hospitality and comfort and is neither based on, nor meant to depict any one person. While we cannot discuss the details of pending litigation, we do not believe there is any merit to this lawsuit.”
As such, the company’s decision to change direction at this exact time seems to be motivated, in part, by public perception and/or current events.
Quaker Oats is not alone in its reactionary approach to appease the apparent calls for “political correctness” and/or inclusivity, primarily among those on the left. For example, according to Breitbart, “Land O’Lakes announced in April it would remove the likeness of a Native American woman from its butter products after 92 years” due to perceived racial insensitivity. In addition, the University of Florida recently announced that it was ending its “gator bait” cheer at sports events because of its racial connotations. Moreover, as reported by Fox News, “the mayor of Duluth, Minn. is pushing city council members to remove the word “chief” from city job titles, saying the term is offensive to Native Americans.” Not too long ago, the Boy Scouts program decided to drop the “gender” reference from its name to be more “inclusive.” Per Fox News, “After 108 years, the Boy Scouts program is set to drop the gender from its name and re-emerge as “Scouts BSA,” a more “inclusive” group that will also soon welcome girls in its ranks.” In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided that this was not “proper” to use the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” and decided that conductors and bus drivers would address commuters as “passengers,” “riders,” and “everyone.”
The trouble with this approach is that it has no limits, sets a questionable precedent, and effectively curtails Americans’ freedom of expression due to fear of public pressure, perception, and/or ridicule. Where should people draw the line? For example, should Americans refrain from using the terms “boy,” “girl,” “boyfriend,” or “girlfriend” because someone might feel left out? Should people refer to a significant other as a “friend” or a “special friend” for the sake of being “politically correct” and/or “all inclusive?” The number of examples is endless, which is exactly the problem.
There is a major difference between enacting legislation and/or laws in order to promote/effectuate change(s) to various policies, and curtailing Americans’ freedom to express themselves by creating an environment of fear from public backlash stemming from what some on the left perceive to be “politically incorrect” or “offensive” at a particular time. For example, if Quaker was so concerned about the perceived stereotype associated with the use of the “Aunt Jemima” brand, why did it wait until now to address the issue? It could have simply done away with the brand long ago.
The direction that we are heading is concerning. We are heading down a path where words are being “re-defined” and used as a sword against those who utter/use them. We are heading down a path where “political correctness” and someone’s “feelings” serve to dictate how Americans conduct themselves. We are heading down a path to the abyss that, if left unchecked, will undoubtedly spiral out of control, and leave Americans wondering what they may and may not say on a daily basis.
Mr. Hakim is a political writer and commentator and an attorney. His articles have been published in The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Federalist, The Algemeiner, The Western Journal, American Thinker and other online publications.