Skip to content
September 12, 2012 / missmarymax

Why I’m Not “Politically Correct”

Full transcript (with fancy links!) after the cut.

~

Called anyone out lately?

Asked someone to knock it off with their quips of “that’s so gay,” “this is so lame” and “quit being retarded”? Brought up, however awkwardly, that certain words are oppressive, and – therefore – those of us with privilege might do everyone a solid and just quit using them?

If you have…I’m gonna go out on a limb that it went badly. You probably heard all about how it wasn’t the person’s intention to offend, how words are just words, and how they totes support social justice. Maybe they pointed to that sticker on their laptop, that friend with the wheelchair, that hard-and-fast refusal to ever eat at Chick-Fil-A. If you pursued your point, and they maintained their defensive posture, you probably also heard all about the woes of living in a culture that’s “politically correct.”

(Dramatic music plays).

Ah, political correctness. So often the heart of the defensive stump speech. The free space on the privilege-denyin’ bingo card.

Over the past few decades, the far right has done an impressive job selling us disgust toward “political correctness.”  “Being too p.c.” is now shorthand for policing self-expression, and standing against it has come to mean standing against censorship itself. Which helps explain how bleeding-heart leftists have come to adopt the right’s definition. I mean, we oppose censorship. Book-burning bad and… stuff.

(MMax attempts to balance a paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 on her face. Seconds later, she watches it fall, then eyes the camera to see if you noticed.)

The fact that progressive people have bought into conservative definitions of political correctness confounds me. Far past using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, we’re now essentially renting the master’s condo. I mean, seriously. The idea that refusing to acknowledge critiques from oppressed populations is somehow revolutionary does not compute.

(Mmax rubs exhaustion from her face, and manages to massage it into a glare/ grimace.)

This contemporary meaning of “politically correct” says a lot about how we’ve denigrated politics — to the point that politicians run on platforms of not being politicians and “playing politics” – even in governmental bodies – is considered negative.

But I believe in a definition of “politics” expanded past petty competition, fiery rhetoric, and bureaucracy. I believe in the broader notion that our personal actions have cultural and civic meaning. In that context, “politically correct” is something of a contradiction in terms. How can there be such a thing as correct dialogue or correct meaning? In the mainstream context, however, where politicians are lying greedy opportunists who put used car salesmen to shame, “political correctness” is not an oxymoron. It just describes the behavior exactly opposite of the one for which it’s used.

If politics is the realm of career politicians, whose only interest is in votes — the “correct” path is the path to reelection. And which platform is more likely to win the campaign — a radical challenge to power systems that privilege the few at the expense of the many – or the supporters of those systems? In a culture that defines politics as about winning, not ethics — in actuality — the politically correct path is the one that’s racist, sexist, cissexist, ableist, on and on and on.  Check your campaign ads. That is the shortcut to election. That is “politically correct.”

And yet we say otherwise. We use charges of “political correctness” to defend oppressive rhetoric. We say we are challenging censorship and supporting free speech. But “censorship” is not solely the silencing specific words or texts. Censorship built into the structures of conversation, the “common sense” and “status quo” that keep certain people out. Censorship exists in any dialogue set up to erase, marginalize, or obscure certain voices. This covert censorship preemptively eliminates whole populations from the dialogue. There’s no need to silence someone, mid-speech, whom you’ve never allowed to take the microphone. The woman blocked from legislating her reproductive health. The autistic persons blocked from their own advocacy. The lower-class blocked from academia.

These are not overt acts of censorship. This censorship is systemic.  This censorship isn’t a challenge to existing free speech; it’s a challenge to free speech ever existing.  (The frame goes black and white, and the following text is credited “Langston Hughes, 4eva.) “The free? Who said the free? Not me, surely not me?”  (Color returns.)  Free speech cannot exist where dialogue fails to be open, where we protect only against the censorship of those with power. Defending the voices of white male cis able-bodied Republicans is like passing an amendment protecting marriage from gays or a law against burning the Bible. It happens. And yet, it’s so much less necessary than acting against those forms of censorship that go unchallenged.

The true radical acts in favor of open dialogue by dismantling the systems of conversation that exclude oppressed voices. Calling out the use of identity terms (gay, crazy, lame, gay) by people who don’t share those identities is one method for doing so. It’s not an attempt to censor speech. It’s an attempt to make the arena of dialogue open to those for whom it’s been least accessible. It’s an attempt to counterbalance the constant force of privilege.

Defying political correctness is not about protecting free speech. It’s about protecting privilege. I mean, who feels more entitled to be part of the conversation than those who’ve never been excluded from it?

There is no such thing as free speech in a conversation that puts the interests of the powerful ahead of the oppressed. There is only the status quo, which we’re compelled to protect, and the rights of others, which we will sacrifice to do so.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. startledoctopus / Sep 13 2012 5:34 am

    Reblogged this on Startled Octopus and commented:
    So many high fives!!!

  2. ily / Sep 13 2012 8:30 pm

    I’ve told a couple people that “gyp” is a racial slur, and either they think I’m making it up, or they say it’s okay to keep using it because they are not in the presence of anyone from that group of people. I’ve also told a few *friends* that it bothers me *personally* when they call people “Nazis” (like “grammar Nazis”) and from their responses, I felt very shamed by even bringing it up. These people make it sound like changing their language, even just a couple of words, is a HUGE HUGE burden. (I think this might be somehow related to the fears of “they will make us all learn Spanish!”) Same with people who won’t use “they” pronouns because it’s “grammatically incorrect”. I have such a hard time understanding this viewpoint. I think some terms like “crazy” are so entrenched in popular culture that they will never be removed, but if someone I knew was offended by the term, I would at least make an effort not to use it with them. “The Right”, Capitalism, or some other cultural juggernaut has been effective in making us all think that it’s “weak” to care about hurting people’s feelings. Anyway, thanks for giving me an opportunity to think about some of this stuff!

    • missmarymax / Sep 14 2012 8:00 pm

      I remember hearing about “gyp” on a short-lived Norm MacDonald sit-com, when I was way to young to know his concern about it was simply the butt of a joke. (The height of political correctness, like you were saying.) I’m trying to work “Nazi” out of my own vocabulary, partly because it seems so freaking crappy, from a social justice sense, and partly because it’s so negative. (And I’m usually guilty of using it in the grammar context, like you said — which I happen to think is a positive thing.) Still, is “grammar police” so hard?

      I’m not saying it’s always easy to change your language. (I just made a video about “crazy” — but I’m STILL correcting myself every time I say it, and just starting to see affect how often I do.) But I do think, when it’s a matter of “me being ‘put out’ because I have to make a bit of effort” or “someone else encountering *one more space* that isn’t accessible or safe or respectful” — I want to err on the side of my effort.

      For me, I guess it comes down to the fact that there’s a burden either way, and when we aren’t shouldering some of it — someone else is. I can either choose to make a little effort, or I can just let the world continue to suck for them. And personally, I still think feelings matter. Whether Teh Man wants me to or not. 😉

  3. Melody / Mar 31 2013 9:53 am

    Eloquent, logical, and extremely intelligent. Thank you for this!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: