Politically Correct

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By Molly M. McLay

“He tells it like it is,” you say, singing his praises

“I don’t have to be politically correct anymore”–
these are words out of a politician’s mouth;

If you’re a politician
and you’re not correct on a political level,
what the hell are you?

But that’s beside my point,
because honestly I cannot stand the words
“politically correct”

To some it’s an annoyance, a buzzword, social etiquette,
an excuse for people to respond with “stop being so sensitive”

When what you really mean by “I tell it like it is”
would be “I get to stop being a decent human now”
and you don’t have to put yourself in anyone’s shoes but your own.

My student working in an elementary school taught me the acronym “THINK before you speak”

Is it true
Is it helpful
Is it inspiring
Is it necessary
Is it kind

And I am so very afraid
that we are going to stop thinking

That what is now called truthful — “telling it like it is” —
is perpetuating bullshit information about someone’s identities
instead of taking the time to learn and listen,
to know someone other than yourself

That helping each other does not seem to be a core value
when our public officials will leave millions of people without healthcare

That what is inspired is fear and bigotry and hate
instead of hope and empathy and love

That it is somehow necessary
for my students to read and hear as they walk to class
“build the wall”
“feminism rapes”
“maybe now they’ll get rid of all the fags”
only to also be told
that they don’t need safe spaces–
“toughen up, get ready for the real world,” you say

That we will never again be kind.

Why is it so unpopular to be kind?

When I hear that someone doesn’t want to be “politically correct”
I wonder if they’d think it’s just an inconvenience

when my students tell me things like
I’m afraid my family will get deported
I get misgendered multiple times a day
I can’t walk through a department store without being followed by security
I can’t walk down the street without fear of being catcalled
I can’t go to the bathroom without fear of being killed

as though one’s genitals are the end-all-be-all or anyone’s goddamn business
as though my body is public property to spit on
as though you actually believe a woman should be treasured
when you talk like she is meat for your consumption

when I am afraid that someday soon,
I will no longer be able to sit here and tell a student,
“what happened to you was sexual assault,”
because our highest public official called the same thing “locker room talk”

when I am a survivor
and everyday I fear walking
on the campus where I work
the downtown that I love
the place where I am the most myself

because I don’t want to be groped

because men in another college town, not so very far away,
are running around doing that
to women like me
and to women not like me
calling it “trumping”

And when all I want is to keep my students safe.

You want someone to tell it like it is?

I’ll tell it like it is.

Because even though I am a queer woman and scared as hell–
and being white and cisgender means I am less scared than many, and that is not okay
because feminism without intersectionality is bullshit–

I refuse to believe that our words are no longer
truthful helpful inspiring necessary kind

Because everyday I see evidence that they still are.

One of my students wrote sexual assault statistics
on her dorm room door whiteboard
the words “no means no”
“only yes means yes”
and “I believe you”

Another told her best friend from home that using “gay” as an insult is not okay
she was so afraid to say something
and so grateful she learned how

One of them radios the bouncer when he sees men being aggressive toward women
from the booth at the campus bar where he is a DJ

Another called the police on his peer who was hitting his girlfriend–
despite being much less powerful in size or social status,
he did not back down when he was told he’d better not call

And another left his fraternity when they would not stop
with the jokes about gender and race and rape,
despite his efforts to stop them–
“when I could not uphold the values of the organization while remaining in it,” he said

One is starting her internship at the National Network to End Domestic Violence in DC
even though as a woman existing at the margins of many identities
she fears everyday for her safety
she is there anyway

One takes his knowledge and his advocacy
into the middle and high school classrooms of this town
making sure each and every kid knows they are worthy
of love and respect

Dozens of my students answer calls for the rape crisis line
telling survivors in our community that it is not their fault

And one student fights back by existing
because she did not get to decide to share her body
when it was photographed without her consent
and now she gets to take that power back
by teaching others about consent
and posing nude on her own terms

This is just a smattering
of the nearly 400 stories
I carry on my heart daily
from the nearly 400 students
I have taught over the last four years

Students who teach workshops
Students who teach friends
Students who teach family
Students who teach me

Students who listen
Students who love

You want me to tell it like it is?

The “say whatever you want to say” does not stand with me
It does not stand with us
It will not stand at all

My students and I
We will stand up

We will intervene
We will advocate
We will support
We will believe
We will listen

We will be intersectional

We will take the perspective of another human being
and we will honor it

You heard the words I’ve used
and maybe you’ll be surprised to hear this
but they are
in fact
politically correct

They’re correct because they’re about doing what’s right

And you better believe they are political

This poem was first published in Smile Politely.

Molly McLay is an educator, advocate, licensed clinical social worker, and assistant director coordinating sexual assault prevention programming at the University of Illinois Women’s Resources Center. She is also the Leslie Knope of Illinois. She enjoys advocacy, feminism, giving impassioned speeches, organizing things, and Joe Biden. She is awkward and also loves poetry, karaoke, her dog, singing in her feminist cover band Love Handles, and preventing sexual assault through education. While she thinks national parks are just okay, she does love waffles.

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