PC-ing Me Off

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A study published last Wednesday revealed just how many Americans are sick of PC culture. As Yascha Mounk, a lecturer at Harvard, writes for The Atlantic:

If you look at what Americans have to say on issues such as immigration, the extent of white privilege, and the prevalence of sexual harassment, the authors argue, seven distinct clusters emerge: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives.

According to the report, 25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an ‘exhausted majority.’ Their members ‘share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.’

Most members of the ‘exhausted majority,’ and then some, dislike political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that ‘political correctness is a problem in our country.’ Even young people are uncomfortable with it, including 74 percent ages 24 to 29, and 79 percent under age 24. On this particular issue, the woke are in a clear minority across all ages.

Parsing through the survey results in “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” published by More in Common, an international campaign to combat polarization, I find my own position lies exactly where I expected them to be: somewhere between “traditional liberal” and “progressive activist.” I feel as angry as any activist, which, as with “devoted conservatives” (meaning Trump voters), seems to be a defining characteristic of their politics; only my anger isn’t bubbling at the surface the way theirs is. Plus, as loyal readers of mine will know, I despise political correctness.

I’ve voiced my dislike for the PC police a few of times before — in an article after comedian Jerry Seinfeld was attacked for his comments on diversity in comedy; in the third episode of my first podcast series, On the Contrary, in which I defended my playful use of the alliterative phrase “born-again beaners” to describe evangelical Latinos; in another article making the case against adoption of the word Latinx. I agree with what the PC police squad is trying to accomplish — the end of bigotry and discrimination — but I simply don’t believe policing language, or any form of expression, is the way to go. And in that, I seem to be part of the “exhausted majority.”

Again, from Mounk:

It turns out that while progressive activists tend to think that only hate speech is a problem, and devoted conservatives tend to think that only political correctness is a problem, a clear majority of all Americans holds a more nuanced point of view: They abhor racism. But they don’t think that the way we now practice political correctness represents a promising way to overcome racial injustice.

It also turns out that the progressive-activist cohort is dominated by highly schooled, well-to-do white people:

Compared with the rest of the (nationally representative) polling sample, progressive activists are much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly twice as likely as the average to make more than $100,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree. And while 12 percent of the overall sample in the study is African American, only 3 percent of progressive activists are. With the exception of the small tribe of devoted conservatives [again, Trump voters], progressive activists are the most racially homogeneous group in the country.

I could’ve told you as much ten years ago. The number of working-class people of color I’ve met who got all worked up by the mere mention of certain words can be counted on one hand. Working-class people of color — who don’t live on the safe side of town, who haven’t been spoon-fed the theories of those who proudly cloister themselves in an ivory tower — aren’t worried about culturally insensitive forms of expression. They’re worried about the rent, the light and gas bills, and the police — none of which is swept away by political correctness. After all, you can make the manager or the police officer talk as correctly as you want, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get fired, or shot.

The problem I have with political correctness is that it puts too much focus on appearances. The PC police seem to think that by changing the words people use, we can change the way people think and behave. But look wherever you want, in the halls of Congress or the White House, in corporate press releases and mission statements, and it’s clear that the words people use rarely have any bearing on the actions they take. In short, people say one thing and do another. I use the words nigga and bitch on a daily basis, for example, but I’m far from a racist or a misogynist (only those who know me personally can know the validity of such a statement; the rest of you can either believe it or not). Using nigga regularly in conversation doesn’t make a person a racist, just as eliminating the word nigga, or even nigger, from the world’s vocabulary wouldn’t put a dent in racism — real niggas (working-class people of color) know this.

Attempting to wipe out social diseases by barring the use of certain words, which are merely symptoms, is like trying to keep the leaves from changing their colors by spray-painting or stripping away all those that aren’t green: what you’ll have in the end is a tree with all-green leaves, but one that’s been manufactured and requires a vigilant eye for any non-green leaves that might appear; it’ll be the illusion of an all-green tree. If you really want to get rid of racism, misogyny and the like, however, you have to start at the roots.

Until then, who cares what people say, or how they say it.


Featured image: Tim Sheerman-Chase/Flickr

Hector is the founder and editor of MANO as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's also the senior editor of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and his writing was featured in 'Ricanstruction, 'a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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