November 09, 2006

Political correctness defined

The Greatest Cliché:  The Unexamined Propaganda of "Political Correctness"The phrase "politically correct" can be used in two distinct ways: either with its original literal meaning, or with the mocking sarcasm that's common these days. I'll get to the former in a moment, but I'll begin with the latter. As it's commonly used, "PC" is a deliberately imprecise expression (just try finding or writing a terse, precise definition) because its objective isn't to communicate a substantive idea, but simply to sneer and snivel about the linguistic and cultural burdens of treating all people with the respect and sensitivity with which they wish to be treated. Thus, the Herculean effort required to call me "Asian American" rather than "chink" is seen as a concession to "the PC police", an unsettling infringement on the free-wheeling conversation of, I suppose, "non-chinks". Having to refer to black folks as "African Americans" rather than various historically-prevalent epithets surely strikes some red-blooded blue-balled white-men as a form of cultural oppression. Having to refer to "women" rather than "bitches" lays a violent buzzkill on the bar-room banter of men preoccupied with beating on their chests and off other body parts.

Obviously these examples fall on the simplistic side of things, but I think they illustrate the shaky philosophical foundation of today's usage. Underlying every complaint of "PC" is the absurd notion that members of dominant mainstream society have been victimized by an arbitrarily hypersensitive prohibition against linguistic and cultural constructions that are considered historical manifestations of bigotry. It's no coincidence that "PC"-snivelers are for the most part white men who are essentially saying, "Who the hell do these marginalized groups think they are to tell me how I should or shouldn't portray them? I'm not going to say 'mentally challenged' when it's my right to say 'retard', goshdarnit there's only so much abuse I'll take!"


Not a Sioux said...

My general take on it is a basic matter of manners. Who but a jerk would want to insult someone? Don't call someone something they'd rather not be called.

In some specifics, the only problem I have with "African American" is that it technically applies to Egyptian immigrants, and even white South African immigrants... which is not the original intent of the creation of this term. Also, one of the most famous men to get called this term, Colin Powell, is actually a Caribbean-American.

Closer to the topic, even the term "Native American" has some lack of accuracy. It's much easier to be clear on this one in print: when you capitalise Native in the middle of the sentence, it's always known that "Indians" are being referred to.

There are some parts of PC that are indefensible, such as the idea that only whites can be racist.

La Otra said...

Not a Sioux, your comment reflects the very liberalism Kai was talking about. Branding discourse "PC" is exactly how white men deflect away critique of white male supremacy. Yes, we live in a system of white male dominance, and it's the very reason American Indians are oppressed to this day.

There are some parts of PC that are indefensible, such as the idea that only whites can be racist.

Who took Indian lands? Who killed millions of Indians and drove their survivors out west? Who broke treaty after treaty with Indian nations, marginalizing an entire people on their own soil? Who continues to exploit stereotypical Indian images in racist iconography? Black women? Asian men? Arab children? Tell me, who committed these atrocites other than white men?

And just for your information, "African American" refers to the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States, thus it is 100% accurate. Either way, people get to define themselves how they choose, another point Kai made clear in the piece. What's so difficult to understand about that?

Not a Sioux said...

To say that only white individuals can be racist is itself.... racist. It's a definitional problem. Regardless of where the majority of the problem is, racists can be found in any racial group. Slandering all "white men" as racists actually steps into the realm of being both racist and sexist. It also lets off the hook the racist demagogues who do not fall into the "white male" group (Ann Coulter, Louis Farrakhan).

To answer a specific question: "Who continues to exploit stereotypical Indian images in racist iconography? Black women? Asian men?" ....there are plenty of both who find no problem with Chief Wahoo and his ilk.

In any case, the racist and sexist slander of all whites that you imply is not in the summary Rob presented here. I cannot tell anymore if it is in the original article: it has vanished.

Condemn people (if you must) for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The idea that all "white men" are racist and sexist, and that only whites can be racist is so intellectually hollow as to be not even worthy of discourse.

As for African-American being "100% correct" and "to the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States", one need to look no further than Barak Obama, who is labelled as an African American. His father is Kenyan, and he is thus not the descendant of slaves in America.

Not a Sioux said...

"postscriptum": consider the second African-American example: Charlize Theron.

Rob said...

Try the link again. The original posting is still there.

I agree that anybody can be racist. I also agree that the racist power structure is much more of a problem than racist individuals. This is part of the point of White Privilege Defined, so see that posting for more on the subject.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
And what about the term 'reverse discrimination', which was created as white response to Affirmative Action? It became a battle cry, especially after the Bakke Decision, and was successfully employed to end programs and directions intended to allow non-whites increased opportunities to enter vocations and employment areas theretofore severely restricted or even denied. The question that never was addressed was this: how can you have 'reverse discrimination' against Caucasians without admitting that there had been discrimination against all other races by Caucasians. But that was how the game played out and Affirmative Action withered away to the point that little if anything ever saw affirmative or even positive change.