I’ve begun to ponder the issue of political correctness. Is it synonymous with tolerance? Is it a first cousin perhaps? Has it gone too far or not far enough? I have begun thinking about it, and as you know that can be dangerous.
A good deal of what we defend as political correctness is well correct no doubt. Most of us do well not to repeat a lot of stereotypes any more. It helps us, I hope, divorce our minds from such untruths, as we feel the repercussions of such ill-conceived statements that are meant to define whole groups of folks. Defining groups as having group characteristics is almost always wrong and faulty. There are just too many exceptions and finally you are left with the stereotype applying increasingly to a minority within the group.
I’m not talking about that of course. I’m talking about phrases that are termed “code.” Code is a phrase that seems fairly innocuous in and of itself, but stands for the normal stereotyping that is no longer permitted in polite discourse. A couple of people have been accused of such recently as I recall. Joe Biden was called on the carpet for saying that Barack Obama was articulate and well educated. That is presumably code for “he isn’t like your normal black person, he’s more like us, and perhaps he is thus okay, maybe.”
Such was certainly not Biden’s intent at all. Of that I’m firmly convinced. He meant it in the same way that people said that about Adlai Stevenson back in the 50′s. He meant that he was a fine candidate. Not all candidates are well spoken and well educated as we most certainly now know. Some cannot speak without sliding their foot but to the other side of their mouth, so poorly do they speak in public.
We have been alerted that we cannot say anything like that about Mr. Obama. And that is a shame, for indeed Senator Obama is a very articulate and well-spoken human being who engenders hope in people, energizes their passions, and motivates us all. Bill Clinton had that same capability. To some degree it is undoubtedly a gift.
The reason I got to thinking about it again, is the reaction of the Jeremiah Wright remarks. Certainly some just don’t understand the Black Church. They do not understand how it has developed as the safe haven where black folks can and could vent their anger, frustration and pain and the unfairness of life in a white-controlled America. In part, there is legitimate dispute about some of the things Rev. Wright said. I’m not convinced as he is that the government has spread drugs throughout the black community in an attempt to destroy it. To be fair, he backtracked a bit and said he felt the government was capable of such a thing, not that it necessarily had. I can agree, it might be capable, but I’m also quite sure in my own mind that it did not, thus there is no point to the statement.
Such a statement, by the way, is not new news in the black community. Such claims have existed for many years, and I’ve heard them spoken before. I can assure you that few blacks agree with Rev. Wright on this. Most of the other things he spoke to, I can pretty much agree with.
One that really sends me for a loop was his reference to the fact that the tragedy of 9/11 was in some part brought on by our foreign policy of the past several decades. This brought the usual firestorm. I believe that Bill Maher said something similar and got his head handed to him as well. You see, it is not politically correct to assign any blame for 9/11 to our country.
Now before you stomp off in disgust or start looking for the comment button to fire off a passionate objection, listen for a moment. Neither Wright, nor Maher meant that America was responsible for what happened. There is no defense for what happened. None at all. You do not attack “innocents” because you have a legitimate gripe with a countries foreign policy. What both Wright and Maher were saying, in my opinion, is that given our foreign policy of the last 50+ years, such a response, wrong as it is, was intellectually understandable.
Yet, the politically correct Nazis come out and no one has the guts to stand up and say, wait, there is something important that we need to both think about and discuss. It is simply true that Europe and now America has exploited and used many areas of the world peopled by millions of people for a very long time. We have treated Arabs and other Middle Easterners as if they were not quite as intelligent as us. We have done the same (and again I use We in the European/US sense) in India and the Far East. In America we have done so in Latin and South America. We have equated less-developed as less intelligent. We have used and abused whole nations for multiple generations. We have equated physical power with intellectual right.
Today, we in part see the fruits of such policies. Religion in some cases has been the focal point for joining vastly different regions of the world under a common banner of hating the West. Other nations have acquired through natural resources sufficient wealth to oppose us on their own. So I see Maher and Wright’s comments in that light, and don’t find them “out there” as many claim.
Political correctness also takes the form of requiring that all views, no matter how loathsome or well, silly, deserve an equal hearing. This is the extreme form of tolerance that many on the Right, I think, legitimately call the Left on. In religious terms, it’s called moral relativism. It’s the idea that, well I don’t agree with this, but I don’t have a right to tell you not to.
That is simply incorrect in my view. I have every right to say you’re opinion is simply wrong, stupid, idiotic, and the product of a brain that has never matured. (Well, perhaps, that’s a bit much.) But I do have a right, and an obligation to say, you are wrong, and here’s why. To simply, smile, and walk away so as not to offend, does no one any good. You have given up any chance to change any mind, enlighten anyone, or even point out flaws. That is not tolerance, that is capitulation. When you cower in political correctness, you give the wrong-headed both a head of steam and evidence that the wingnut opinion has validity.
Tolerance means that you have the opportunity to speak your mind. You don’t thereby get the right to equal time, equal forums or any of that. If you opinions are worthwhile, that will come naturally. I can allow that the KKK has the right to congregate on a street corner and spew their junk. I cannot allow that their candidate has a right to speak at a candidate’s forum where real issues and ideas are being debated. You can publish your rag of a newspaper at your own expense, but I don’t have to sell it at my store. Get what I mean?
I’ve been reading recently about our history with religion since the founding of the colonies. What I have learned is quite shocking. it seems that indeed, most of the original colonies were set up as Church/state bastions of faith. The Puritans were in the north, Anglicans were in the middle colonies. No one else was tolerated, period. Banishment, taxation for Churches, being charged with witchcraft, no right to vote, own property, or hold office was the common boat of Jews, Catholics, Quakers, and Baptists. As more came to our shores, that group enlarged to Lutherans, Unitarians, and a whole host of others.
In part our religion clause in the 1st Amendment was the result. So very shocked and dismayed did our “founding fathers” find this that they made sure that they and others like them could freely practice their faith. They saw all such Church/states as dismal failures. They felt that they did the best they could for religion by keeping the state separated from it. Much of this thought was engendered by the Continental Congress which had the most widely disparate group of Christian denominations probably ever assembled until that time. They realized something important, that ideas were not the enemy, repression was. Freedom of consciousness became the phrase of the day. They had faith, faith that in the arena of ideas, the bad ones would fall naturally away.
It just seems to me that we are at a dangerous place today. One where some ideas are deemed dangerous to speak, and thus politically incorrect. This, I would argue, is why we continue to fail to address the issues that have occurred historically that drive the violence we find ourselves embroiled in today. On the other hand, ideas not deemed dangerous, but which are supercilious to all but a fringe are given equal footing with all other ideas in the marketplace, with little attempt to define them as such. This gives them a credence they do not deserve.
So, these are two difference things, political correctness, and tolerance, and we need to approach them differently. I know the difference, however inarticulately I am able to express them. And I’m not afraid to tell you what I think. But hey, don’t be afraid of me. I still love Polish and blond jokes. But beware, I might bite your head off if you make another pantsuit joke! Are we clear?