Tag Archives: political correctness

Admitting Privilege, Admitting Assholery

A recent ‘scandal’ in the German blogosphere has lead to a minor shitstorm among the social media-savvy networkers. It was triggered by a rather sad event, the collision of well-intentioned activism (the organisation of an anti-racist festival at a university) and baffling ignorance. You can read about the highlight, or rather lowlight, of the story here.

Basically, the black activist and writer Noah Sow was invited to give a lecture at the aforementioned festival, but upon arrival she was confronted with organizers who seemed unprepared and unfamiliar with her work. When she was introduced to the location for her lecture, she couldn’t help but notice that the student café was “adorned” with an offensive colonial lamp, whereupon Sow cancelled the event and left, a decision which was critized by many as an overreaction.

But this blog entry is not about the event itself, rather it is about the discussion it sparked. Most articles on this subject matter (for example here, here and here, all in German) were debated quite heatedly with comments in the hundreds and accompanying tweets. The opposing sides and their arguments could be loosely divided into two camps: on the one hand oversensitized sociology and humanities students who see discrimination everywhere, on the other the liberal-minded everyman (also occasionally everywoman) who just wants to be left in peace.

To be fair, both groups are annoying. I can say that because I am one of those hyper-sensitized humanities students and I know for a fact that I can be annoying, with my constant bickering about the world’s inequalitites. It just doesn’t make for nice family lunch conversations. But what distinguishes both camps most obviously, in my mind, is self-awareness. While one group is very capable of it, maybe excessively so, the other lacks true self-reflection in a complex society.

I get it. We are all tired of the so-called oppression olympics. I’m sure every single one of us has experienced discrimination or humiliation at some point in their life, be it for being considered too young or too old, too ugly or too cute, too extroverted or too shy. But can we please all agree that certain “inevitabilities” prevent us from being exposed to certain forms of discrimination, for example that being a bio-woman I am considered more socially acceptable than a trans-woman, that being white I will never face institutionalized racism? See, it doesn’t hurt to admit that in many ways I am better off than others and that that’s not okay.

sometimes it takes kanye west to illustrate privilege (still from video "runaway")

And being the privileged white girl that I am, I am also prone to have prejudices and to make inconsiderate remarks, that can be offensive and hurtful to others. And I know that they are wrong, but they still happen, sometimes. Bad habits die hard, but I am not proud of that and I take full responsibility. Which is why I would get very defensive if someone called me a racist or homophobe – I know that’s just not true – but that doesn’t prevent me from saying racist or homophobic things. Awareness and acceptance are the first step, an apology the next.

But alas, I am just an overly sensitive feminist, constantly assessing my behavior and my flaws. Those liberal-minded folks posing as the mainstream, however, they don’t like to have their noses rubbed in it all the time. Because being young and educated and left-wing, they are quasi tolerant and open-minded by default. And they are tired, tired of the p.c. talk, tired of being reminded of their privilege which is, after all, not their fault, they claim. But try to take it away from them, their privilege, and they get all defensive (see any discussion about quota laws, yes means yes, immigration…).

What they need to realize is that this defense mechanism is precisely what perpetuates inequality and power relations and prevents progressive social change. Instead, we should all aim to be the best person that we can be, which does not imply that one should try to please everyone. Frustration and anger are important sentiments, but they need to be channelled in the right direction. Sometimes toward oneself.

Admit to your privilege, admit to your assholery, and then try to make things better, so you won’t have that privilege, so you won’t have to be an asshole.

Since When Did It Become “en vogue” To Be Politically Incorrect?

The titles of the increasing amount of blogs, online communities and forums that call themselves “politically incorrect”, or “heretic”, or “against the mainstream” seem to suggest that they are somehow more bad-ass and controversial than what else can generally be found in the media. A closer look, however, usually reveals that they are just trying really hard to denounce everything left-wing progressive thought has been fighting for for the last forty years.

Political correctness were the buzzwords of the New Left rhetoric during the 1970’s. Politically correct language meant talking about topics in a way that took into consideration the sensibilities of particular groups of people that were often ignored, marginalized, belittled or degraded in the political discourse. Examples of politically correct speech include gender neutral speech, not using the N-word, not referring to people as retarded, and all other means necessary to minimize people taking offense.

Feminism in particular has taken a special interest in political correctness since the theories of Derrida and Lacan revealed the importance and all-encompassing relevance of language as a crucial determinant of all of our lives. Post-structuralist feminists found that language cannot be thought outside of the power structures that generate it, and thus it is inherently a male construct that determines which things we consider male or female, normal or deviant, and which in turn we connote positively or negatively. Gender-neutral speech was a way of lessening the problem, as well as increasing the visibility of minorities that were previously ignored or subsumed under the default person: a white, heterosexual, able-bodied man.

Naturally, political correctness is not without its discontents. To use it appropriately can be complicated and long-winded. In fact, there are no distinct rules for the perfect use of politically correct speech. These are guidelines that are in constant flux and dispute, making it an easy target for anyone who is traditional-minded and reactionary.

Needless to say, the backlash was quick to follow. In the 1990’s the political right used political correctness as an insult for all ideas that they rejected. It was decried as censorship and cultural Marxism, two concepts that they equalized with intolerance when, in fact, political correctness was supposed to achieve the opposite. The Angry Black Woman writes:

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that people who rail against Politically Correct speech are those who do not want to have to be polite or civil to folks different from them. They see nothing wrong with using the language they grew up with or that they’ve come to use. They do not care if the language they use is hurtful to others because, after all, the most important thing is that they get to do what they want when they want. This is the prevailing attitude of people with privilege.

Political correctness and what it stands for are often misunderstood, not just as being in line with the leading ideology, but as being in line with the ideology that one doesn’t like. That’s why Sarah Palin finds nothing contradictory with getting upset about the “lamestream media” trying to “shut her up”, while at the same time complaining at length about a politician’s use of the word “retarded”.

Europe, too, has its own heroes of political incorrectness: Nicolas Sarkozy thinks women’s rights are not that important (except when it’s about protecting women from the burqa, of course), David Willetts blames feminism for widening the poverty gap, and Marine Le Pen, Thilo Sarrazin and the likes blame Muslim immigrants for, well, pretty much everything. These individuals pose as provocateurs and are being praised for their seemingly controversial statements by their sizeable following, online and off. Finally someone says it how it really is! Finally a slap in the face of the establishment! Or is it? Alfie Kohn writes in the Huffington Post:

To classify something as PC isn’t just to say that one would prefer not to deal with it. It implies that what might be called a liberal sensibility represents the conventional wisdom (of which the challenger is attempting to remind us). I’d argue that exactly the opposite is true: Our political system and the norms of our culture are largely built on an edifice of conservative beliefs regarding power, tradition, religion, and nationalism, many of them invisible to us precisely because they’re so widely and uncritically unaccepted.

Being politically incorrect is nothing but a way to ensure self-confirmation, to feel special and extraordinarily brave, when really all they do is repeat the same polemic bullshit that’s already well-established in mainstream opinion. I wish the “lamestream media” would shut them up already, but sadly their voices are being heard loud and clear. And any attempt at criticism is being denounced as limiting our freedom of speech.

No one is trying to take away your freedom of speech! Political correctness is not censorship. There are hardly any laws that prevent you from saying whatever is on your mind. I just don’t see the positive effect of getting into everyone’s faces just because you can. But when you think you have to call out “p.c. lies” and claim to call things what they really are, be sure to apply this to yourself as well. When you state that Muslims are stupid, you’re not being politically incorrect. You’re being a racist.