In an exit interview with NPR, President Obama for the second time in his two-term reign attacked political correctness, claiming debates have become “like walking on eggshells” and advised people to stop going around “just looking for insults.”
During the interview, Obama discussed the recent election, Donald Trump, Russia and his own future. But he also laid into the wave of political correctness sweeping college campuses, corporate America and (of course) Hollywood. He told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that there’s “a hypersensitivity that ends up resulting in people not being able to express their opinions at all without somebody suggesting they’re a victim.”
“If somebody says, ‘You know what, I’m not sure affirmative action is the right way to solve racial problems in this country,’ and somebody’s immediately accused of being racist, well, then I think you have a point,” he added after being asked whether he agrees with President-elect Trump that political correctness has gone too far.
Obama went on to offer some advice: “My advice to progressives like myself, and this is advice I give my own daughters, who are about to head off to college, is don’t go around just looking for insults. You’re tough. If somebody says something you don’t agree with, just engage them on their ideas.”
“You don’t have to feel that somehow because you’re a black woman that you’re being assaulted.”
The President, however, distinguished himself from Trump, saying that not using racial epithets or making derogatory comments about women or about the LGBT community has nothing to do with political correctness. He said it’s just “good manners, sound values and hard-fought gains in the nature of American society and American community.”
If what’s meant by political correctness is that there is some broad disapproval that’s expressed when somebody uses a racial epithet, or somebody makes a derogatory comment about women, or about the LGBT community, and people say, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t do that. That’s wrong, that’s cruel, that’s hurtful. Here’s the history of that word.’ And when you use words like that, you’re reinforcing people feeling like they’re outsiders, and less than other Americans.
He also took a swing at conservatives who he said have used political correctness to attack him by jumping on “any evidence of progressives being ‘politically correct'” and being constantly “aggrieved and hypersensitive about the things they care about.” He said conservatives “are continually feeding this sense of victimization, and that they are being subject to reverse discrimination.”
“I had to live through controversies like the notion that I was trying to kill Christmas. Right? Well, where’d that come from? Well, you know, ‘He said ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas,’ so that must be evidence of him either not being a Christian or not caring about Christmas,” Obama said.
He added: “It sounds funny now, but you’ll have entire debates in conservative circles around that. So it cuts both ways. And my advice to young people, and my advice to all of us as citizens, is to be able to distinguish between being courteous and being thoughtful and thinking about how words affect other people and not demonizing others versus having legitimate political debates and disagreements.”