Political Correctness in Music. Means and Purpose of being Politically Incorrect

Table of Contents

1.    Introduction  
2.    A Short History of “Political Correctness”
2.1.    Political Correctness and the University
2.2.    Academic Anti-Discrimination Policies
3.    “Don’t be such a Jew” or How to be Politically Incorrect 
3.1.    The means to be politically incorrect. Different Forms of Linguistic Discrimination
         3.1.1.    Invisibility and Exclusion
         3.1.2.    Extra-Visibility and undue Emphasis on Difference
         3.1.3.    Stereotyping
         3.1.4.    Asymmetrical Treatment and Dependence
3.1.5.    Biased Labeling          

4.    The Debate about Political Correctness         
4.1.    The Advantages of Political Correctness
4.2.    The Disadvantages of Political Correctness
4.3.    2001 Clear Channel Memorandum
5.    Political Correctness in Music 
5.1.    Sexism in Music
5.2.    Racism in Music
6.    Conclusion
List of examined Lyrics

1.    Introduction
What’s the sound of a racist chainsaw?
Run, nigger, nigger, nigger.

What’s the difference between a Jew and a canoe?
A canoe tips.

These jokes have one thing in common: they are racist and discriminatory toward minorities. While the first jokes insults African Americans as niggers, the second draws upon the prejudice of Jews being greedy.
In the Middle Ages Jews often worked as usurers, lending money to Christians who were not allow this profession as they were forbidden to charge interest. At some point in time people must have started to draw a connection between the profession of a usurer and the Jews which must have led to the assumption that Jews are rich (because of being able to lend money) and greedy (for charging interest).
Still, there must be certain factors to the jokes why people consider them to be discriminatory or racist; i.e. politically incorrect. Therefore, it is useful to have a look at various definitions of politically correct or rather Political Correctness (PC). What comes to mind immediately is looking up the term in the English Wikipedia which states that

Political correctness […] is the attitude or policy of being excessively careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have a disadvantage.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) offers the following definition:

Political Correctness is the “US advocacy of or conformity to politically correct views; politically correct language or behavior.”

Last but not least the Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) states that PC is a

term used to refer to language that seems intended to give the least amount of offense, especially when describing groups identified by external markers such as race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation.

What becomes clear immediately is that there is not the definition of PC; e.g. the OED definition splits PC into language, views and behavior while the EB refers to the use of language only. The latter also modifies the groups referred to in the Wikipedia definition.
For a first overview of the concept of PC these definitions shall suffice.
The concept of Political Correctness is nowhere as present as in the United States where it can be experienced in the media, on TV, in newspapers and even in music; i.e. anywhere people can express their opinion.
The aim of this essay is to examine the use of politically incorrect statements in the lyrics of various songs and determine the kind of discrimination taking place as well as its purpose. A list of the lyrics I examined will be posted at the end of this essay with all my references.
First things first, it is necessary to explain the historical background of Political Correctness and its emergence. As there is an ongoing debate about the use of politically correct terms the advantages and disadvantages of PC will be presented in order to give an example of how the concept can be led ad absurdum.
In a last before the examination it is important to find out how people “become” politically incorrect. Therefore, the different means of discrimination will be defined and clarified with the help of (media) examples.
Finally, the examination of the lyrics will reveal the purpose of people using politically incorrect terms as, so much might be said already, they necessarily do not intend to offend anyone.
Let us begin with a short historical overview of the emergence of Political Correctness.

2.    A Short History of “Political Correctness”
The phenomenon of Political Correctness emerged in the United States between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 90s. Before the term’s nominalization term people used to categorize statements as either politically correct or politically incorrect. The latter two terms were, of course, used much earlier.
Tanja Greil (cf. 1998, 9) dates the earliest use of politically incorrect to a decision made by an American court in 1793. It says that it is politically not correct to refer to the USA as The United States instead of The People of the United States. This shows that the meaning of politically correct and politically incorrect changed over time and became used in a different context.
Deborah Cameron (1995) dates these changes back to the 1960s/70s when the English translation of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book (1964) was published. In this work politically correct meant following the correct line. Author Toni Cade (1970) also used the term in one of her articles stating that “a man cannot be politically correct and a chauvinist too” (Cameron, 19). The definitive origin of the term is still unclear though.
During the growing debate about being politically correct the adjective was turned into the noun Political Correctness, thereby gaining a new meaning. Whereas being politically correct describes a certain behavior, Political Correctness refers to an existing concept or phenomenon; i.e. something tangible (cf. Greil, 7).
Today the concept of PC can be encountered in all areas of everyday life. However, the whole debate started on university campuses.

    2.1.    Political Correctness and the University
It comes as no surprise that the debate about Political Correctness started on university campuses. Bored students with too much time on their hands come up with the weirdest ideas. Just kidding, well, not necessarily, but anyways. At universities people of all genders, ethnicities and social classes live and learn together. Therefore, American universities pursue a strict line of anti-discrimination policies on which I will shed some light in the following paragraphs and subchapters.
It should be noted that especially in the 1970s the expression politically correct was used with an ironic undertone referring to the Red Guards (cf. Hall 1995, 165).
In the 1980s/90 PC became a more serious matter. So called Affirmative Action Programs were brought to life helping non-white applicants and those from lower social classes to get into university more easily by focusing not only on qualifications but also on ethnicity during the application process. Such programs did not only lead to higher graduation rates among women and students of ethnic minorities (cf. Greil, 38) but also to criticism as some people started taking PC too seriously.
In the Simpsons episode That 90’s Show (2008) Homer Simpson’s Band Sadgasm plays a concert on a university campus. Homer announces their first song saying: “We are Sadgasm, and this song is called ‘Politically Incorrect’” (my emphasis); a statement that causes a collective gasp among the audience, showing how seriously PC was taken when only the term politically incorrect could create such a shocking effect.
Critics claimed that being overly politically correct caused reverse discrimination (cf. Greil, 38); i.e. by focusing too much on ethnicity more gifted white applicants did not have a fair chance of getting into university.
“Undeniable idiocies” (Hall, 173) were often the result of the result of enforcing being politically correct; e.g. when some scholars started criticizing the canon taught at universities as being too western. Lisa Jardine (1995, 103) admits that “[c]ritical selection is always an act of intervention, and is always open to the charge that it prejudges what the reader is allowed to think.” Some of her students, however, do not have access to the books in the canon until they enter university. “PC”, she writes, “in the university classroom means opening the resources of a rich and diverse cultural heritage to those traditionally excluded.” (ibid. 102)
The traditionally excluded mentioned by Jardine are members of ethnic minorities. With the example of Shakespeare’s Othello she clarifies her thesis claiming that the play was edited for white readers (cf. ibid. 98). Otherwise, it would not have been necessary for the editor to explain the otherness of the character Othello (cf. ibid. 99).
Many supporters demand an opening of the canon to authors of ethnic minorities as the Western canon “suggests a global superiority of Western culture” (Greil, 39, my translation).
It is not only the canon and the curriculum that are being criticized. To maintain Political Correctness among students universities rely heavily on anti-discrimination policies which I will explain in a bit more detail in the following subchapter.

    2.2.    Academic Anti-Discrimination Policies
Many universities possess codes of conduct containing rules to prevent discrimination among students as well as between students and personnel. Tanja Greil describes these rules as strict (cf. 41).
I took a closer look at the code of conduct of the University of Cincinnati which describes its goal as follows:

The Student Code of Conduct (“SCOC”) is intended to provide broad guidance in identifying and discouraging behavior that conflicts with the building of a strong and just community that respects and protects the diverse interests and goals of all students.

The SCOC distinguishes between academic and non-academic misconduct and describes procedures how to report and pursue such cases. Non-academic misconduct includes e.g. sexual harassment which leads to a severe problem: Political Correctness and categorizing statements as either politically correct or incorrect is totally subjective. This means that misconduct often lies in the eye of the beholder and the lines between where ‘fun’ ends and discrimination begins are blurred. Me, I can laugh about a lot of jokes most people would deem politically incorrect. But then I got a weird sense of humor in the first place. Nevertheless, it might happen that innocent people are declared guilty (cf. Greil, 44). Kurthen and Losey (1995, 9, my translation, quoted by Greil, 43) advise caution that “such language-hygienic devices and narrow rules can lead to a lot of suspicions, defamations and misuse.” This underlines the notion that reporting and pursuing academic as well as non-academic misconduct are subjective matters (cf. Greil, 44).
However, there exists not only criticism concerning PC and universities. Especially in the United States there is an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of Political Correctness which shall be presented in the fourth chapter.
Having had a closer look at the history and emergence of Political Correctness and the treatment of the concept in an academic context, it would be interesting to know in what ways people might ‘become’ politically incorrect. These different ways will be presented in the next chapter.

3.    “Don’t be such a Jew” or How to be Politically Incorrect
Behaving politically incorrect often means to discriminate minorities and social groups deviating from the societal norm. According to the OED to discriminate means “to treat a person or group in an unjust or prejudicial manner, esp. on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation […]”. In the same line the definition also hints at the phenomenon of reverse discrimination which should not be discussed further in this chapter.
Calling a homosexual male a fucking faggot or a rear gunner would be discriminating and whoever utters these insults does not behave politically correct. Homosexuals deviate from the societal norm in terms of sexuality as the norm is seen as being heterosexual.
The TV series South Park offers another example of discrimination and shows that it can even happen among members of the same (minority) group. Kyle, a Jewish kid, asks his father to lend him $300. An argument takes place at which end Kyle’s father still refuses to lend him money. “Aw, come on Dad, don’t be such a Jew!” (Christian Rock Hard 2003) protests Kyle to which his mother warns him not to “belittle your own people!” (ibid.). Kyle’s statement is clearly discriminating as it implies that Jews are greedy.
Nigger is the typical insult white people utter towards Africans. The term is derogatory and discriminating in that it points out the difference in skin color and thereby the Africans’ deviation from the societal norm which is white. Nevertheless, African Americans, especially rappers, use the term among themselves in order “to take a term of racist insult an […] transform it into a badge of racial pride.” (Kellner 1995, 179)
There exist different types of discriminatory behavior that will be important for the upcoming examination of the lyrics and I will, therefore, present and explain them shortly in the following subchapters.

    3.1.    The means to be politically incorrect. Different Forms of Linguistic Discrimination
Tanja Greil distinguishes between five different types of discriminatory behavior or rather speech: invisibility and exclusion, extra-visibility and undue emphasis on difference, stereotyping, asymmetrical treatment and dependence, and biased labeling. All terms will be defined and examples provided.

        3.1.1.    Invisibility and Exclusion
Invisibility and exclusion mean explicitly or implicitly ignoring a certain group of people. Maggio (1991,6, quoted by Greil, 83) mentions the sentence “We are all immigrants in this country” thereby excluding the Native Americans. It is a known fact that the Native Americans, who “were mistakenly called Indians” (Tottie 2002, 200), inhabited what is now the United States before its discovery by Columbus in 1492.
In her essay Canon to the left of them, Canon to the right of them (1995) Lisa Jardine mentions Shakespeare’s Othello as in the foreword “the twentieth-century editor makes the tacit assumption that the reader of the play-text is white” (98) thereby excluding readers of all other races. Most non-white students, however, do not register this fact (cf. ibid. 100). So, according to Jardine, Western editors have often excluded non-white readers from their texts.
Furthermore the Juden raus and Juden sind hier unerwünscht signs of the Third Reich are an example for the explicit exclusion of an ethnic group.

        3.1.2.    Extra-Visibility and undue Emphasis on Difference
Contrary to their exclusion, minority groups can become the focus of unwanted attention. This happens through pointing out differences to what is considered the societal norm. In the United States this norm is often defined by the acronym W.A.S.P.; i.e. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (although the term has negative connotations). Nevertheless, anyone deviating from the norm can be made extra-visible. It is interesting that this deviation can also affect women although they are W.A.S.P.
Women often fall victim to sexism. In the South Park movie (1999) the teacher, Mr. Garrison, states that “I just don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.” Saying so, he makes women seem untrustworthy and lays undue emphasis on their difference to men.

        3.1.3.    Stereotyping
Germans wear lederhosen. The French are bad drivers. There is nothing rare than the sight of a sober Irishman.
What does the bumper sticker on a Dutch car say? If you can read this, I have lost my travel trailer.
The list of existing stereotypes is endless. Stereotypes are based on clichés that make it easier for people to put others into certain group with the help of external markers.
McGarty et al. (2002) define three main purposes for creating stereotypical images or rather beliefs. Stereotypes:
1.    help to explain
2.    help to save energy
3.    are shared beliefs of members of the same group
Concerning their list they give the following explanation:

The first of these implies that stereotypes should form so as to help the perceiver make sense of a situation, the second implies that stereotypes should form to reduce effort on the part of the perceiver, and the third implies that [stereotypes] should be formed in line with the accepted norms of social groups that the perceiver belongs to. (ibid. 2)

So, stereotypes are simplified images that help identifying others as members of either your own or a different group. They reduce groups to only one or a few individuals. For example, if one sees a man with painted fingernails, holding a handbag and wearing a velvet scarf around his neck, one would automatically think: gay. No one would think a muscular wrestler or a man in an expensive business suit to be homosexual as both do not represent our image of the ‘stereotypical homosexual’.
Stereotyping, therefore, leads people to making completely false assumptions. If there is a race including runners from Germany, the Netherlands and Kenya most people would bet their behind on one of the Kenyans to win. Due to experience people know that African runners are fast and often win Marathons and other races.
On August 1st 2004 www.musicradar.com published a list of The 60 greatest bassists of all time. What leaps to the eye immediately is the fact that nearly 1/3 of them are black. Considering that they belong to an ethnic minority this number is pretty high. This might lead to the assumption that black people are born bass players.
This stereotypical image is treated in season 7, episode 9 of the South Park series where Eric Cartman, a fourth grader, wants to form his own band. Therefore, he visits a kid named Token, an African American, and tells him to “[g]et the bass guitar out of your basement”. When Token explains to him that his family does not own such an instrument Eric says: “Your family’s black, Token! There’s bound to be a bass guitar in your basement somewhere!”.
Indeed, Token arrives at the band first rehearsal bringing along a bass guitar, himself surprised his family owns one. Cartman comments drily: “I told you, Token.” Then Eric asks him to play the bass. Token, however, claims not to know how to play the bass. So Eric tells him that “Token […]. You’re black. You can play bass” to which Token answers “I’m getting’ [sic] sick of your stereotypes!” Nevertheless, Token starts to play the bass perfectly, thus confirming Eric’s stereotypical assumption.

        3.1.4.    Asymmetrical Treatment and Dependence
Asymmetrical treatment and dependence are closely linked to sexism where “the masculine becomes the norm” (Greil, 90, my translation). Kessler/McDonald (1992, referred to by Greil, 90) define the expression man and wife as sexist because wife directly reveals a woman’s marital status. This is not the case with man. Therefore, calling or pronouncing people man and wife is discriminating towards women.
The same holds true for the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) starring Brangelina – Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt who play a married couple of professional assassins. While Mr. does not give any clues to John Smith’s (Brad Pitt) marital status, Mrs. clearly indentifies Jolie’s character as his wife. So, “[d]ependence means that one person is referred to in dependence of another” (Greil, 91, my translation).
Asymmetry can also affect minorities. The sentence Four people died in a car crash, among them a black girl of 16 years would be an example of asymmetrical treatment. Readers will now assume that three of four people belonged to the white majority. Mentioning the black girl separately identifies her as deviating from the societal norm.

         3.1.5.    Biased Labeling
Biased labeling, or social labeling, means putting a stamp on certain societal groups (cf. Greil, 92). These labels are influenced or rather created through prejudices, a phenomenon that Greil names “derogatory labeling” (ibid.). Derogatory labeling comprises insults such as nigger but also seemingly harmless labels like Jew or old man. However, people have negative connotation concerning both social groups. Old men, especially when wearing hats, are said to be pretty bad drivers. The movie Jud Süß (Süss the Jew), a Nazi propaganda film released in 1940, portrays Jews as greedy and deceitful – an image that still exists today.
Imposed labels, i.e. labels not chosen by the group concerned but by the majority of the population are also a means of biased labeling. Homer Simpson tells his daughter: “Lisa, Vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins and [E]skimos.” (Season 5, Episode 5, 1993)
Eskimo is a name that the majority gave to the natives of Alaska who prefer to be called Inuit.
One more label, writes Greil, is depersonalizing an individual or a group; e.g. referring to people with disabilities simply as the disabled (cf. Greil, 93) so that “the disability represents the person as a whole”. (ibid. my translation)

4.    The Debate about Political Correctness
Besides the academic context Political Correctness has become part of everyday life. So, on a daily basis people experience situations that might lead them to think What you just said was politically not correct. Therefore, especially everyday life offers many opportunities to discuss whether Political Correctness is a useful concept or not.
Before having a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of PC a parallel between academic and non-academic life can already be drawn. Over the years universities have enacted ordinances to create equal opportunities for students belonging to ethnic minorities, women and people with disabilities. The US government also issued acts to stem discrimination, e.g. the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 or the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. The first helps to prevent applicants older than 40 years from being dismissed from a firm’s selection process. The latter act forbids the discrimination of elder people in publicly funded programs (cf. Greil, 33). Of course there are other acts that were issued to increase the job prospects for women and applicant from ethnic minorities. Consequently, these acts led to accusations of reverse discrimination from members of the majority.
Therefore, let’s now have a closer look at the pros and cons of the concept of Political Correctness.

     4.1.    The Advantages of Political Correctness
Insults like nigger or cripple do not only affect the minorities concerned but also members of the majority. It may be one of the reasons why South Park has so many critics.
There are two handicapped school kids, one sits in a wheelchair and the other needs crutches to walk, who often get into a fight with each other. Each time this happens one of the other kids screams “cripple fight” and the kids gather around the, well, fighting cripples.
An existing linguistic sensitivity towards certain expressions leads people to link them to negative connotation. In a best case scenario these expressions should not be in use any longer. Thus, as words are banned from a language, they have to be replaced by new and more sensitive terms which should lead to a growing sensitivity towards minorities. Furthermore, using politically correct language keeps people from involuntarily insulting others. This holds especially true on an academic basis where behaving politically incorrect can have severe consequences. Thus, behaving politically correct would offer others protection from being harassed or offended.
Sarah Dunant (1995) points out that Political Correctness promotes the “rights and sensibilities of racial and sexual minorities” in several ways. This is true because people become more aware of how the talk to members of the minorities. They might refrain from using fighting words; e.g. nigger, cripple or retard. Of course it can easily happen that one calls patients of a sanitarium loonies or whackos without meaning to discriminate them. Still, when more people are sensitive towards their use of language, they might think twice before uttering such insults.
For all these – and surely more – reasons the concept of Political Correctness can strengthen people’s awareness of their own language. Nevertheless, being or having to be politically correct brings many critics to the scene.

     4.2.    The Disadvantages of Political Correctness
Hitchens accuses PC to “[undermine] free speech” (referred to by Dunant, xiii) stating that “I did not come to America to watch what I say” (ibid.). In other words PC is censorship of language.
For Deborah Cameron replacing terms with (more) politically correct ones is nothing but “verbal hygiene [which] abuses language by perverting the meaning of words” (Cameron, 22). The substitution of words is done by the “thought police” (ibid.) who “trivializes politics by focusing on language and not reality” (ibid.) Let me clarify this statement with the example of racism.
Calling an African American nigger is a racist insult. Politicians may now decide it is more appropriate to call a nigger Black Gentleman or African American. The language will then be purified by officially banning the term nigger. However, racists and people in general may still use the term. The result is that nigger is banned from language but not from reality.
This way it happens that linguistic matters become politicized but politics are not able to help language (cf. Hall, 167) and therefore, banning politically incorrect terms will not make them go away; i.e. reality does not change.
What is more is that language gets flooded by euphemisms. An example is The Final Solution of the Jewish Question promoted by the Nazis as an avoidance of the term genocide.
A group of African Americans demanded “that only the oppressed should have the right to decide the language they wished to be addressed in” (Alibhai-Brown 1995, 59). This, however, leads to “an inverted racial hatred” (ibid.) and is nothing else than reverse discrimination.
It seems that PC has many promoters but also many enemies. Calling to mind the “undeniable idiocies”, Political Correctness can indeed take on absurd forms. An example can be found in the following subchapter which will then lead to the examination of the lyrics.

     4.3.    2001 Clear Channel Memorandum
“Today we’ve had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Centre in an apparent terrorist attack on our country” (Daily Mail, online) George W. Bush said at Emma E. Booker Elementary school after he had heard about the attacks in New York City. Not only in the long run did the events of 9/11 change a lot but also in the immediate aftermath.
Shortly after 9/11 Clear Channel Communications, Inc. (today called iHeart Media Inc.) published a memorandum. It was sent to their more than 1,200 stations around the United States and contained more than 150 songs which Clear Channel Communications, Inc. asked their stations not to play for the time being.
“Some listed song would be insensitive to play right now, […] but other choices, […] are less explicable because they have little literal connection to the tragedies” writes Neil Strauss (2001). He refers to song like Blow up the Outside World by Soundgarden or Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Aeroplane. The first verses of both songs read as follows:

Soundgarden – Blow up the Outside World:

Nothing seem to kill me no matter how hard I try
Nothing is closing my eyes
Nothing can beat me down for your pain or delight
And nothing seems to break me
No matter how hard I fall nothing can break me at all
Not one for giving up though not invincible I know

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Aeroplane:

I like pleasure spiked with pain
And music is my aeroplane
It’s my aeroplane
Songbird sweet and sour Jane
And music is my aeroplane
It’s my aeroplane
Pleasure spiked with pain
That motherfucker’s always spiked with pain

Both songs have no connection to the events of 9/11 in any way. Still, in the opinion of Clear Channel Communications the listed songs were “lyrically questionable” (Wishnia 2001, quoted by Strauss) but as all the songs were written before the attacks this statement seems unfounded. Of course, some titles may trigger painful connotations but, as Strauss says, none of them is connected to the attacks in any way whatsoever. It is the people who link the songs to the event which is understandable when reading lines such as “well I don’t think you trust/in my self-righteous suicide” (System of a Down – Chop Suey! 2001).
The song’s lyrics may be linked to the terrorist steering the planes into the World Trade Center. However, as System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian put it in an interview in 2013:

The song is about how we are regarded differently depending on how we pass. Everyone deserves to die. Like, if I were now to die from drug abuse, they might say I deserved it because I abused dangerous drugs (Chop Suey! in Wikipedia)

Consequently, it seems that the memorandum was more of an arbitrary list. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why sometimes several versions of the same song (e.g. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan and Guns ‘n’ Roses) were banned while other originals were added to the list but not their cover versions.
Additionally, it is unjustifiable to ban all of Rage against the Machine’s songs under the pretext of their being lyrically questionable just because they are critical of US government policies.
Concerning other songs it is even more debatable whether people would react sensitively to their lyrical content. So, the list shows that Political Correctness is a subjective concept which can be led into absurdity.
It is interesting that Clear Channel Communications (2001) always denied the existence of the memorandum:

Clear Channel Radio has not banned any songs from any of its radio stations. Clear Channel believes that radio is a local medium. It is up to every radio station program director and general manager to […] guide their station’s music selections […]. Each program director and general manager must take the pulse of his or her market to determine if play lists should be altered […]

Still, Political Correctness plays a role in music and its lyrics. This leads me to the practical part of my essay where I will examine the lyrics of a choice of songs for politically incorrect statements and determine their purpose.

5.    Political Correctness in Music
For this chapter I examined the lyrics of twenty-six different songs. Although varying significantly in their musical style all of them can be sorted into the broad field of rock music. As this examination does not pay attention to the music itself this rough definition shall suffice.
The number of lyrics makes it possible to categorize them as either racist or sexist lyrics. If a song contains statements fitting both categories I classified it according to its main focus; i.e. racism or sexism.
Political Correctness exists all around the world. Still, until today it is most often connected to the United States of America. Therefore, I decided to focus solely on American bands and artists.
The main purpose, as mentioned before, is to determine the means and purpose of discrimination.
You might wonder how I came to set up my categories. During my examination it became obvious that most of the lyrics deal with either racism or sexism. Of course, I searched explicitly for lyrics I know are discriminatory. For example did I know that Manowar’s Pleasure Slave is considered sexist. Other lyrics I chose randomly or happened to come across like Bruce Springsteen’s Incident on 57th Street.
I will start my investigation with the lyrics I deem to be sexist or that at least contain such motifs.

     5.1.    Sexism in Music
It is apparent that some of the lyrics aim at sexism while others deal with different topics. Manowar’s Dark Avenger and Hail and Kill are not explicitly sexist. Dark Avenger describes the death and revenge of a man returning from the gates of hell after his wrongful death. In the course of taking revenge he rapes the girls and women of his former tribe. Rape, therefore, becomes a means of retaliation and a promotion of violence against women – which is sexist.
Hail and Kill is a song about war for a divine cause. Here, rape is seen as a means of subduing the enemy. The line “May your sword stay wet like a young girl in her prime” (l.5) can be seen as promoting the attractiveness of minors and becomes distinctly sexual considering that the sword might be a phallic symbol.
However, both lyrics are basically about fighting and revenge but they contain sexist motives.
The aforementioned Pleasure Slave is purely sexist as it demotes women to objects of manly lust. A woman, the song suggests, only has the purpose to serve her master. Therefore, it is necessary to break her will as “[m]y chains and collar brought her to her knees” (l.3). “Before her surrender she had no life” (l.10) implies that a woman is no woman unless she depends on a man; i.e. until she becomes a slave because “that’s your reason to live” (l.6).
The song WCSR (World Class Sex Rhymes) by Kid Rock feat. Snoop Dogg objectifies women as sex objects that do not deserve to be loved because “Hoes get fucked – they don’t get kissed” (l.8). As Kid Rock declares he will “show you how a real pimp works” (l.12) one can assume that he sees the women he sleeps with as whores. His insults are biased labels. Whore and Hoe can even hint at a form of dependence because sex workers often do depend on their pimps.
Other politically incorrect terms that are used throughout the song are, for example, titties (l.13) instead of breasts or stewardess (l.52) instead of flight attendant. In line 5 Kid Rock becomes derogatory towards homosexuals, stating “I ain’t no fag”. Fag is the short form of faggot; a fighting word belonging to the means of biased labeling. What is also interesting is the use of the term “nigga” [sic] in line 25 which is considered to be racist. In this case its use is completely legitimate as it is uttered by Snoop Dogg who is an African American.
Having a closer look at the sexist texts it becomes obvious that they are most often directed at women and homosexual people.
I wish I was queer so I could get chicks by The Bloodhound Gang contains a lot of stereotypical images of homosexual men. Heterosexuals, the societal norm, concern themselves with what one might call man sports; Monster Truck shows and doing push-up (ll.6-7). This, however, does not impress girls as they like “queer guys that don’t dig chicks” (ll.9-11). So, according to the song it is better to be “incognito as gay” (l.15) to get close enough to the girls. The song obviously relies heavily on the stereotype of gay men being handsome and girls having homosexual best friends.
While the song by The Bloodhound Gang has a certain entertainment value others are plainly insulting. Surely not written without purpose Korn’s K@#ø%! is a litany of insults against either women or a man; including “ass licking piss sucking cunt” (l.2) or “damn fucking diarrhea slut with dicks” (l.10). In this song derogatory labeling takes place by reducing the person to its genital area.
The song She ain’t got no legs, again by The Bloodhound Gang, contains a mixture of sexism and discrimination against a woman with disabilities.
The lyrical-I is in love with a quadriplegic (cf. l.18). The Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities (2013) state that it is not correct to “focus on a disability unless it is essential to the story.” (2) As the song’s title already refers to the woman’s disability the lyrics are politically incorrect as they still focus on the disability. Throughout the text the lyrical-I reduces the woman to a “torso to hump” (l.8), compares her to a “Sit and Spin” (l.10) and misuses her as a beer holder (cf. l.12).
Later on, he further insults her by making her disability extra-visible using terms of walking like “the day you walked out of my life” (l.15), “come crawling back to me (l.16) and “we started goin’ [sic] together” (l.17, all emphases are mine). He also makes use of the euphemism “those more fortunate” (l.21) implying she is unfortunate to be disabled which is politically incorrect (cf. Guidelines, 3).
By focusing on the woman’s disability throughout the whole song the lyrical-I uses the means of extra-visibility; i.e. he points out the woman’s deviation from the societal norm.
Another interesting observation is that the song A Man needs a Maid, written by Neil Young in 1972, is sexist by simply focusing on the stereotypical role of a woman as housewife.
Throughout the examination it became apparent that most discrimination is either done by stereotyping, emphasis on difference or biased labeling. In the following subchapter I will perform the same investigation with lyrics I deem to be racist.

     5.2.    Racism in Music
Before beginning this subchapter I have to make a distinction between the two types of lyrics I will examine. At first, I will have a closer look at songs in which the artists criticize their own majority’s culture. As white people cannot really be racist towards each other these lyrics can be characterized as hate speech. After this brief examination I will focus on racist lyrics.
Hate speech is the result of biased i.e. derogatory labeling. Certain groups of people are given pejorative names; in this case homeless people, yuppies, ‘false skinheads’ and politicians.
Ted Nugent calls homeless people Street Rats, placing them on one level with vermin. He describes them as criminal as the “rob you for a dollar” (l.7) and “[steal] another meal” (l.14). Besides the biased labels the lyrics contain stereotypical images of homeless people.
Agnostic Front’s Dead Yuppies works the same way as Nugent’s text, using prejudices against yuppies to express hate for that group. A yuppie is “a young college-educated adult who is employed in a well-paying profession and who lives and works in or near a large city.” (Yuppie in Merriam-Webster)
The prejudices listed range from yuppies always wearing “the latest fashion” (l.3) to their adoring money (cf. l.5) while the general public can barely pay their rent (cf. l.2). Those young adults fall victim to biased labeling and stereotyping.
Hate speech can also be conveyed in a different way. In their song The Kids will have their say SSD (Society System Decontrol) makes use of the racist term “Japs” (l.12) which is derogatory for the Japanese. However, their aim is to criticize American society and politicians for throwing atomic bomb on Japan among other things.
In Jock Itch SSD use biased labels like “commie” (l.3) – i.e. communist – and “nigger” (l.4) to distance themselves from ‘false’ skinheads who do not distinguish properly. Contrary to Ted Nugent and Agnostic Front SSD uses racist terms to criticize parts of their own group.
I will now come to the lyrics containing racist discriminations against ethnic minorities. Here, too, a distinction has to be made. For example, lyrics by Bruce Springsteen contain lines that can be interpreted as discriminatory. Still, Springsteen is not a racist. On the other hand there are songs by bands that have a racist attitude, e.g. Angry Aryans. Thus, a difference has to be made between what I call intentional and unintentional discrimination.
Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, in Born in the USA, one of his most famous songs, he makes use of the means of extra-visibility when singing about “[going] and [killing] the yellow man” (l.12). This is an allusion to the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and Springsteen explicitly points out the difference in skin color between white and Vietnamese people.
Springsteen’s undue emphasis on difference becomes important in his song Incident on 57th Street. This song is about Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, pointing out their difference in ethnicity.
“I gots [sic] lots of cash but I’m not Jewish” (ll.18-19) proclaims Kid Rock in his song Sugar creating the stereotypical image of the wealthy and greedy Jew. Additionally, he states that he is “Anglo-Saxon” (l.27) and a patriot (cf. l.59) emphasizing the Jews’ difference to the societal norm.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the lines belong to the category of unintentional discrimination. Kid Rock simply likes – in a positive way – to brag about how dope he is while Springsteen conveys his criticism.
Besides these lyrics there are those that aim at discriminating ethnic minorities. Before having a closer look at them I can already state the obvious: Jews and African Americans are the minorities attacked most often. Hispanics, Asians etc. come off relatively well if that might be said. Of course this only holds true for the lyrics I examined.
Some of the lyrics by racist bands are not explicitly discriminatory but present more of a glorification of the white race. The lyrics of Prussian Blue’s Sacrifice glorify infamous Nazis such as Rudolph Hess or notorious right-wingers like Ian Stuart, vocalist for British right-wing Band Skrewdriver and founder of Blood and Honour, a network supporting Neo-Nazi bands.
Johnny Rebel criticizes African Americans for living off welfare (cf. In Coon Town, l.31). He uses biased labels like nigger and coon whereas both terms are synonyms for each other.
Even African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is parodied by Rebel in Affirmative Action which deals with “another government handout” (l.5) that says “You’ve got to hire a nigger instead” (l.6) of a white man. When the black man walks into an interview of a white man he say: “Yo, what’s up/you need a man, well here I be/say bro, you’re in luck” (ll.29-30).
The band Vaginal Jesus also makes use of the term nigger but goes one step further and objectifies them as “something brown” (Back of the Bus, l.2). Furthermore, they degrade being black to a person’s bad features (cf. l.3). Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to sit in the back of the bus, is discriminated as a “stupid fucking chimp” (l.6) and a “brain damaged monkey” (l.7) belonging to “an inferior class” (l.8).
Indians are red nigger skunks is the title of another song by Vaginal Jesus. Firstly, it is politically not correct to refer to Native Americans as Indians. Secondly, the difference in skin color compared to white people is expressed in the word red. Furthermore, the band enumerates several stereotypes associated with Native Americans: teepee, casino, reservation and peace pipe (cf. ll.11-14).
Stereotyping is a common means of discrimination. Agnostic Front uses Maria as the typical name for a Hispanic Woman (cf. Public Assistance, l.16).
While Bruce Springsteen used the image of the yellow man to criticize the Vietnam War, Angry Aryans are afraid of an invasion of the “yellow race” (Asian Invasion, l.2). In the song differences between Asians and white people are expressed by means of extra-visibility and stereotypes like “these slant-eyed nips [living] off rice (l.4), Asians eating dogs (cf. l.14) and being very small (cf. l.16). Biased labeling happens by calling Asians “japs [sic]” (l.12). All means of discrimination are used to criticize Asian immigration into the USA.
Other minorities that fall victim to discrimination are the Jews. “We’re taking down the Zog machine jew [sic] by jew by jew” states Johnny Rebel in his song The White Man marches on (l.3) proclaiming the destruction of the Jewish race. The Zog machine refers to the Zionist Occupation Government, a conspiracy theory claiming the government of the United States is secretly controlled by the Jews (cf. Berlet 2004).
Vaginal Jesus and Ethnic Cleansing become even more explicit in their discrimination of Jews. Nevertheless, they mostly make use of biased labeling in combination with fighting words; e.g. “fuckin’ [sic] Yids” (Ethnic Cleansing, l.1) or “detestable Jew” (ibid. l.11). In Piles of Dead Jews and Ethnic Cleansing the band draws upon the means of exclusion. Promoting an “Aryan Rebirth” (ibid. l.4), an “all White Nation” (ibid. l.9) or a “White Revolution” (Piles of Dead Jews, l.1) they exclude all non-white races and non-Aryan people.
Another means applied to discriminate is stereotyping and so the bands denote Jews to be greedy (cf. Piles of Dead Jews, l.8 and Hooknose, l.3). Vaginal Jesus furthermore draws on the image of Jews having crooked noses as the title already suggests.
Discrimination in music is a widespread phenomenon – that much is obvious – but it is not always aimed at minorities. At the beginning of my essay I mentioned the term reverse discrimination; i.e. the feeling of discrimination among members of the majority.
Reverse discrimination can be found in the lyrics of Shame on a nigga [sic] by Hip Hop band Wu-Tang Clan which solely consists of African American members. Together with Alternative-Metal band System of a Down (SOAD) the re-recorded aforementioned song.
For African Americans it is perfectly legitimate to refer to themselves as niggers but the chorus of the song – among other passages – is sung by SOAD vocalist Serj Tankian who is white. Still, it seems acceptable for Wu-Tang Clan that he uses the term nigger which could have to do with the band inviting Tankian to sing their lyrics.
Even prejudices against white people make up a small part of the lyrics. The line “With hockey pucks and skateboards on the way to Woodstock” (l.29) suggests that ice hockey and skateboarding are typical sports for white people while Woodstock is a festival for whites.
White people, the Wu-Tang Clan claims, do not have a high tolerance for alcohol as one black man is “[d]runk like 20 white boy” (l.28) who are driving around in their stereotypical car: a pickup truck (cf. ibid.).
Obviously, discrimination can emanate from any side of the fence. My examination showed, however, that it is often white people – the majority of the population – who behave in discriminatory ways. Doubtlessly, this has to do with my choice of texts. Maybe creating and examining a selection of lyrics by black or Asian artists would have led to different results.
In the final chapter I will summarize my findings.

6.    Conclusion
The aim of this essay was to examine which discriminatory means are used in lyrics and the purpose they fulfill. Therefore, it was necessary to give a historical overview to show how being politically correct changed its meaning over time and how it became the concept of Political Correctness.
What was an academic phenomenon used in an ironic or rather mocking context became, and I guess this is fair to say, one of the most debated topics of our time, especially in the United States. Political Correctness became a concept that was to be taken seriously and soon it was taken out of its academic surroundings to become part of everyday (American) life.
With PC being a part of everyday life, the debates also became a public matter, with the results being similar to those of the academic debates. The government issued acts to prevent discrimination of minorities; universities issued acts to make it easier for minorities to gain academic access. However, many of these anti-discrimination acts had negative effects causing feelings of reverse discrimination among the majority. It is interesting to see that so many parallels between the effects of Political Correctness on an academic and non-academic level can be drawn.
A significant disadvantage of the debate about PC, as with so many other debates, is that it can take on absurd features leading to no less absurd actions. As an example I mentioned the 2001 Clear Channel Memorandum which arbitrarily banned music with lyrics interpretable as glorifying the events of 9/11.
Gunnel Tottie satirized the absurdity of Political Correctness by showing a cartoon where a cat chases two mice. The caption reads: “Two Rodent-Americans pursued by a Feline-American” (Tottie, 203). Other authors satirized overly politically correct attitudes as well. In his book Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (2004) James Finn Garner denotes Rumpelstiltskin as a “man of nonstandard height” (16) or the seven dwarfs in Snow White as “seven bearded, vertically challenged men” (46) instead of calling them small. Snow White herself is “indicative of the discriminatory notions of associating pleasant or attractive qualities with light” (43) in order not to be described in sexist terms. Here, again, it becomes apparent how easily being overly politically correct can be led ad absurdum.
Concerning my examination I can conclude that most discrimination happens by means of either stereotyping or biased labeling including derogatory labeling, hate speech and fighting words. As the examples of Agnostic Front’s Dead Yuppies and SSD’s Jock Itch and The Kids will have their say have shown discriminatory means can also be used to criticize groups of the own race. Even Bruce Springsteen applies this technique.
Linguistic discrimination is most often used to intentionally insult minorities as Ethnic Cleansing’s and Vaginal Jesus’ lyrics have shown. Therefore, it is important to point out that the purpose of using discriminatory means strongly depends on the musicians’ attitudes. This is the reason why I distinguished between intentional and unintentional discrimination. Songs like Dark Avenger and Hail and Kill by Manowar speak of raping women, thereby implying sexism, but focus on topics of fighting and revenge. Contrary to that Ethnic Cleansing or Angry Aryans aim at discriminating minorities.
Another means that occurs frequently in lyrics is extra-visibility and pointing out the difference between a discriminated group or individual and what is considered the societal norm.
Even cases of reverse discrimination can be found in songs such as Shame on a nigga by Wu-Tang Clan. It shows that the phenomenon exists not only in academic and non-academic but also in a lyrical context.
Finally, it can be said that discrimination occurs through insults and labels imposed by external groups. Furthermore, the majority draws up stereotypes to categorize members of minorities according to a list of features, thereby, laying undue emphasis on their ‘otherness’. Discrimination, it seems, is a means of the majority to strengthen its status as the ‘superior race, express an aversion – if not hate – towards minorities but also to cope with their fears or xenophobia. If used deliberately discriminatory means can express critique of groups of the majority, e.g. politicians.
Thus, being politically incorrect can be a strong means of criticism but it can also conjure up an extreme amount of hate.




Primary Sources
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List of examined Lyrics
Agnostic Front – Dead Yuppies
Agnostic Front – Public Assistance
Angry Arians – Asian Invasion
Bloodhound Gang, The – I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks
Bloodhound Gang, The – She Ain’t Got No Legs
Ethnic Cleansing – Ethnic Cleansing
Ethnic Cleansing – Piles of Dead Jews
Kid Rock – Sugar
Kid Rock feat. Snoop Dogg – WCSR
Korn – K@#Ø%!
Manowar – Dark Avenger
Manowar – Hail And Kill
Manowar – Pleasure Slave
Nugent, Ted – Street Rats
Prussian Blue – Sacrifice
Rebel, Johnny – Affirmative Action
Rebel, Johnny – The White Man marches on
Springsteen, Bruce – Born in the U.S.A.
Springsteen, Bruce – Incident of 57th Street
Society System Decontrol (SSD) – Jock Itch
Society System Decontrol (SSD) – The Kids will have their say
Vaginal Jesus – Back of the Bus
Vaginal Jesus – Hooknose
Vaginal Jesus – Indians are red Nigger Skunks
Wu-Tang Clan feat. System of a Down – Shame on a Nigga
Young, Neil – A Man needs a Maid


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