14 June 2005

To Those Who Bemoan Political Correctness...

Political Correctness (PC) is a joke. It is a reactionary term (even if its origins are not) used to belittle and divert questions of bias in our society.

Jacques Lacan states that the unconscious is structured like a language. Language is central to the ways in which we understand the world: our grammar, our vocabulary, our syntax. Language is also descriptive and formative: if we describe an object as slimy, eventually that descriptor forms a powerful association in our culture (e.g. lawyers). It doesn't take a genius to understand that centuries of racist thought formed powerful associations in the way the dominant culture of the United States looked upon minorities, in particular Black minorities. What descriptors attached themselves to Blacks through language: lazy, smelly, unintelligent, child-like...the U.S. had a fine tradition of the "minstrel show" that operated on these overdetermined qualities.

Of course, Blacks aren't alone in having been hated minorities. They just are lucky enough to be long-standing and continuous targets. In their time, the Irish were also seen as sub-human, and in the early 20th century, one of the greatest threats apparently facing our nation was the influx of nasty Italians. Especially those from southern Italy. All you have to do is read any of the several books Lothrop Stoddard published through the 1910's and 1920's to understand the leverage gained by bringing the language of science to bear on racism. Stoddard was no fringe figure -- he was central to a powerful eugenics movement that helped push through the Immigration Act of 1924, which was aimed largely at non-Western Europeans:
The new law cut the quota for northern and western European countries by 29
percent, but slashed that for southern and eastern Europe by 87 percent. Italy's
quota, for example, was reduced from 42,057 to 3,845 persons.

Stoddard's own descriptors of these supposedly loathsome immigrants are found all through his work. Dig around.

However, at some point -- long before the term "PC" ever came into existence -- it became a bad thing in polite society to use terms like "wop" or "nigger." As a society, we began to see these terms as indicative of institutionalized and condoned racist thought. Likewise, the people who used such terms were understood to be either ignorant or racist or both.

PC is a term co-opted to counter anti-racism and movements to provide equal access in society. It is a way to turn the focus away from the bigots and onto false grounds of "thought police," "speech nazis," etc.

How many people remember the old apologist's saw that the Civil War was fought over States' Rights? Sure, technically it's correct to argue that the South was upset by the prospect that the North might get powerful enough to pass federal laws contravening their state laws, but only a moron would overlook the fact that these laws had to do with slavery. Slavery was the cause of the Civil War and the cause of every damn compromise from 1820 on. Hide behind the states' rights argument all you want, the fight was over whether our nation could continue to hold other human beings as domestic animals.

PC is bullshit.


Anonymous said...

49ers’ Training Video: The Political Game Goes Into Overtime

Jason said...

Having gone to college and being involved in progressive politics in the early 90's, I saw the PC police first hand. I'm as liberal as they come and I don't like the idea of using racist language, but what I saw back then was political correctness run amok. It was censorship, regardless of how well meant it might have been. I think that the right wingers who still rant and rave about this must be permanently stuck in 1992 on their liberal arts college campus where there were symposiums on changing words like history to herstory and spelling Woman with a y. But these are the same people who rail against the "liberal media," who were soooooo liberal that they waited an entire month before mentioning the Downing Street Memo. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there was plenty wrong with the PC movement of the early 90's, but we seem to have moved on from that while the right have failed to update their material.

To the anonymous poster above, making fun of Asians and gays in San Francisco is not a particularly good idea. What the people screaming for heads over this don't seem to get is that jocks aren't exactly known for their sensitivity, nor is it really expected of them. I'm sure the intention of the 49ers tape was just meant to be funny, but it must have offended somebody on the inside if it got leaked to the press.

Have any of you heard the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" from Avenue Q?