This essay first appeared on Areo Magazine
When Megyn Kelly questioned Donald Trump in August 2015 about his history of degrading comments towards women, he replied with a misdirect riposte that conflated legitimate concerns many individuals from the Right and Left have about a growing shroud of censorship, McCarthyite witch-hunts, and absurd ideologies with the claim that an individual has the right to be as bigoted, sexist, and racist as possible without objection. Trump said, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and frankly I don’t have time for total political correctness.” After his election, the P.C. backlash arrived in the form of think-pieces by journalists and authors who branded any objection to a politically correct culture simply as Right-wing hype and outright hate mongering.
Sally Kohn, the CNN anchor, even tweeted out:
Political correctness didn’t cause Trump. Hate and resentment caused Trump.
Political correctness is the solution, not the problem.
— Sally Kohn (@sallykohn) November 9, 2016
I know Twitter limits you to 140 characters so Kohn probably couldn’t explain her position in the clearest terms, but the idea that more political correctness is the solution to preventing another Trump presidency is downright insane. While it is undeniable that many bigots use the red herring of yelling “Stop being so P.C.” when receiving pushback against their retrograde ideas, that is not the P.C. culture I and many individuals all over the political spectrum are claiming a right to bash.
So which is it?
It is the type of P.C. culture that forces everything to be strained, squeezed, and manhandled — no matter how far away the occurrence might be — through the lens of gender, race, and self-defined identity. It is the incessant fetishistic need for referencing the “lived experiences” of a person (only available through their lens of gender and race). It is the overwhelming feeling some members of our society feel to start their sentences with a structure similar to “As a brown woman I think…” “As a black man I think…” “As a trans-person I think” “As a white person, let me start by acknowledging the privilege I hold, I think…” while relevant facts and statistics are swept under the rug and subjective emotions are valued over an objective truth because those subjective feelings come from self-defined identity.
It is the type of P.C. culture which allowed the Rotherham scandal — the exploitation and rapes of at least 1400 young girls — to continue unhindered for 16 years in the U.K. because some authorities and councilmen there could not look past the idea that the perpetrators of a child-grooming ring were Muslim and of Pakistani origin. Hence, they were protected from prosecution and further investigation because punishing brown men would rock the multicultural boat. The official Rotherham report stated:
“There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made witness to brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone“
“Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.”
Misogyny, rape, and abuse were excused because of a culture that was unable to see past identity. A fear of appearing racist trumped the very real fears of 1400 + young girls.
It is the type of P.C. culture which claimed that Ellen DeGeneres was a racist for photoshopping herself onto Usain Bolt’s back after his stellar performance at the olympics. Ellen DeGeneres, a racist? Presumably because DeGeneres captioned the photo “this is how I’m running errands from now on” she was seen as a racist who thought black people were to be used as some type of common mule. Could it be that Usain Bolt holds the prestigious title of the world’s fastest man and riding on his back would have meant she’d complete her errands faster? In other words: a joke?
It is the type of P.C. culture that insisted Donald Trump’s victory was simply – using Van Jones’ vernacular – a “whitelash” and there were no other factors at play. Interestingly, since this culture views everyone through race, gender, and power – with white men at the top – the only form of bigotry acceptable in the mainstream is against white people and white men in general. This culture is capable of heaping collective guilt to the largest demographic in the USA, demanding they feel guilty for the sins of their forefathers, ridiculing, shaming, blaming them for everything wrong in the country, but then shrieking hysterically when that same demographic emboldened by an identity obsession of their own heads out to the polls to defy P.C. culture.
The list of incidents of P.C. culture gone mad on college campuses and in popular media read like something out of a Portlandia episode, so I’ll just list some instances and articles from the past three months for your perusal:
1. UPenn English department removes Shakespeare’s portrait in exchange for a black lesbian poet’s because he is a straight white male (no diversity).
2. A gay and mixed race woman film-maker accosted with “fuck you cis-bitch” because her transgender protagonist was played by a cis actor.
3. “Husband” and “Wife” are discouraged because they represent heteronormative terms which could ostracise LGBTQ+ citizens.
4. A college café in Toronto shut down because the owner put out an tongue in cheek advertisement saying he was seeking “a slave” (full-time employee) to boss around. The ad also jokes about man-buns, tattoos and food safety.
5. Numerous college courses which explore the “problem of whiteness.”
6. An article complaining that fat people should stay out of the conversation and let obese people take center in the fat acceptance movement (since “obese” is now an identity, “fat” people are actually taking away the attention desperately needed by obese individuals).
7. Students trying to shut-down and drown out a free speech event at University of Toronto, even though many individuals speaking in favour of free speech were minorities and people of colour.
8. A culture of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences which deploy absurd theories focused around gender and race to create even more outlandish papers and claims. “Scholarship” which is being uncovered by an anonymous team of academics.
9. An OSU diversity officer asks for compassion in understanding the motive of Abdul Razak Ali, the Ohio State University terrorist, with a #blacklivesmatter hashtag.
10. A teacher is fired after expressing their pro-life opinion because a student was “triggered” and made to feel unsafe.
If these claims and incidences seem foreign to Left-wing readers, it is probably because only the Right-wing media seems to cover them. While it is true that these sources often take an odd glee in pointing out the absurd and unhinged demands and ideas of college students, authors, and journalists, it does not take away the fact that they are, indeed, absurd and unhinged demands and ideas.
This type of P.C. culture neatly categorises individuals through their group identities and bucks violently if someone dares to break out of the box it has assigned them to. It views humanity only through the amount of pigment in their skin and what may or may not be dangling between their legs. It is the antithesis of liberalism. It, without a doubt, values group identity of over the individual, which in itself is sardonically funny because most of its practitioners claim to themselves be “liberals.” Mark Illa’s essay in The New York Times on this matter was a gem. My favourite statement:
“But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good”
When we value race and gender based identity as the most important quality of an individual, we sweep aside far more important indicators about what defines personhood. It seems we have moved far away from judging people by the quality and content of their character. Not acknowledging someone’s skin colour in how you treat them is actually considered racist and marginalising now as opposed to progressive and forward thinking.
So, no, the P.C. culture I’m bashing isn’t the one where I’m claiming the right to make every racist, sexist, bigoted joke or comment I want. It’s the one where everyone and everything is funneled through the lens of race and gender — while individuality and valuing a person for their actions and character is taken out of the equation.