Where political correctness succeeded – and where it has failed

A lot of my discussions with people this month have centered around changing things – or people – for the better. Hell, see that last blog post, where the US military changed its whole zeitgeist and culture.

There’s a big civilian example as well – and it was nearly as successful. Perhaps even moreso.

It’s political correctness.

Stamp Out Racism, August 2010For all the mocking – and we’ll get to that – political correctness was a largely successful attempt to administratively create a new social moré to overlay and replace the old one. In particular, it aimed to replace language that was discriminatory towards women, ethnic and racial groups, and to some degree religious and sexual orientations.1 Or to put it another way, political correctness means that bigotry isn’t okay. 2

Most critics of political correctness are white males. The rest are usually complaining about how group they belong to cannot say bad things about another group they do not belong to. And that’s the core of every criticism of political correctness – “I don’t get to be mean to someone else, and I don’t like that.”

Even for those of us who have lived through the entirety of political correctness have a hard time realizing exactly how much change there’s been. Go watch some movies – especially comedies – from the seventies and eighties. Wince at the stereotypes… and sometimes the language. The kind of casual Archie Bunker bigotry simply is not okay in public anymore – and when it does come up, there’s quite a bit of backlash.3

But political correctness alone is no longer up to the task.

Between the “codes” – like Newt Gingrinch talking about “poor inner-city schoolchildren” when he means “non-white” schoolchildren (seriously – watch this or read the transcript)- and the huge but often invisible effects of structural inequality – like racial profiling – the bigotry has (often) become too subtle for a blunt tool like political correctness to combat.  And even when it is overt, it gets dismissed as being “okay” for one reason or another.

We must point out the subtle things for what they are. We must expose the structural inequity as something more than “isolated” incidents. We do not live in a post-racial world.

Bigots have stepped up their own version of “political correctness” – but thiers is intended to silence any dissenting viewpoint, to reduce equality, and to seat themselves back as the “real Americans”.

And so it’s time to call it for what it is – bullshit.  And perhaps it’s time for us to abandon political correctness – and to call these people out as the bigots they are.

1 Oooh, I like this – what’s your “religious orientation”. Very nice phrasing.
2 It’s just phrased nicely. Sort of like teaching a child to say “I went number two” instead of “I took a shit.”
3 Obviously, this is an overgeneralization. There’s plenty of overtly racist stuff out there, but it’s become the exception instead of the rule.

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