I’d like to make a confession. I originally posted this on Facebook because I could no longer contain myself to the few Trumperdink/Pusillanimous Malfeasant voters I know* and because if I want to fight the weaponized over-use of “politically correct” by the Right to vilify common decency, I’d damned well better be honest about my relationship with it and with racism.** So…This is where I come from, in part.
In college, I believed PC was both a thing and a scourge. In my defense, it got a little hard sometimes when I’d sit down on a dorm toilet and see at eye level the Black Student’s Association poster blaming me and all other white women for Barbie, genocide and injustice–and yes, me, us specifically and collectively. Or when one of my black friends was followed around campus by the same group and verbally abused whenever she dared to walk around with her white fiancee. Or when one person had the effrontery to say to the LGBT (it was the 90s) association: “Guys chalking on Coming Out Day is great and important but could you maybe NOT write “I eat Pussy” on the steps of the president’s house the ONLY day Madeline Allbright is visiting” and that individual was subjected to pillory via endless humiliations in effigy. Stuff like that was hard. Stuff like that made the concept of ‘reverse racism’ seductive as hell. I voted Republican Senior year. I got in trouble for protesting the philosophy proff who insisted that there should be a lottery nationally each year of white girls 18 and under and 50 selected to be lynched in public to make up for Jim Crow–and yes, he was white, and yes he really said that.
The Campus of a small women’s liberal arts college got really ugly between 1996 and 2000. But what I began to realize upon graduating was something that, thank goodness, I had been aware of intellectually through school. College campuses, or other communities where people are of overwhelmingly one ethnicity and above a certain income level are not reflections of the greater world. Many of these places did not begin as diverse and their process of diversification is far from over.
Now, yes I continued to meet people of color who were unethical, corrupt, malicious and worse, bent on letting all around them know that if they were ever put in check, they would use their minority status to exact legal retribution–Anyone who remembers Ms. G of the Colonial Williamsburg ‘coaches’ or certain former employees at the Boston Children’s Museum may also remember statements like this.
But despite suffering specifically and directly under their regimes, I also met white people whose behavior was far more out of control. And those white people were getting elected to High Office, and taking us to war on false means and profiteering, and if anybody wants an example of a special needs individual given too much accommodation, well GW Bush II (whiter than a sodden cracker) still takes the medal.
And slowly, but with growing alacrity, my belief in ‘pc’ and ‘reverse racism’ disintegrated. While I give thanks to my Household Gods for this evolution I can only grieve at what caused it. Tragedy. Tragedy upon tragedy upon horror, upon hateful and nefarious behavior and consequences. I would like to think that my mistaken beliefs were well near gone by 2004–but I know what cemented the change.
A Senator got up to speak on behalf of the feckless hypocritical white qtip–John Kerry. His name was Barak Hussein Obama. And my admiration for his speech itself and his presence and record was matched only by my frustration with a weighted and unjust system that meant we had Kerry as our hapless nominee and not him.–that’s not the tragedy, not yet.
Then Obama did run for office. And I observed my worst fears on behalf of a black candidate come true–hateful, bigoted opposition from all fronts (Including Ms. Clinton, BTW). And he won, and I can say both I and my late husband were privileged to vote for him).
The next day a young white girl was outside the grocery store in Melrose MA with a picture of Obama as Hitler. And after that, the racial and sexually motivated killings, rapes and beatings, which of course have been a shameful part of this country for its entire history continued–but they got a bit more press. and a bit more. And a bit more.
And then we came to the last 6 or 7 years. (Please forgive me if you disagree with my timeline–I was not a social media butterfly before 2010 and I will stand corrected if I am leaving things out).
Black women raped by police officers and threatened into silence in Boston. Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Renee Davis, the Pulse Night Club dead. Please forgive me not listing more. There are so many more. And yet among the people committed to justice and unhappy with how few I have named will be others saying I have not named enough for ‘evidence’ of a problem. As if numbers or their lack justify things. Guess what? One is too many. If you don’t believe that you need to stop posting or quoting from Martin Luther King JR or Gandhi –think about it. They were each just one death. Does that erase the horror surrounding their assassinations?
Other horrific things have happened. Different ethnic backgrounds, physically abled bodies, diverse religious and national identities. But they have also killed every argument I have heard for ‘reverse racism’ and every eye roll over “PC’.
Then our Electoral College and less than the majority of the popular vote put a man in office who has mocked people with mental disabilities, confessed to physically assaulting women and made vastly bigoted and inaccurate and hateful statements about immigrants. (I don’t even need to mention the Birther campaign he championed). And I know people who are descended from immigrants, who know or are related to non-Christians, other immigrants’ descendants, and folks on the Autistic spectrum–and folks who have died of MS. I think of my late cousin Mary Glen in that last instance and am horrified at the caricature that man performed of a non-verbal person’s face and movements. And these people voted for our President Elect regardless. And when I get called pedantic or ‘a special snowflake’ it’s usually by their friends either on social media or in person in the case of my mother’s long time partner.
It was a young person on Tumblr who said it best. “Take any specific instance or instances of PC you object to. For Example “I resent the PC standards that pressure people to not make jokes about physical or mental disability.”. Now, change “PC” for “common decency.” and examine what it sounds like when you say or write THAT”.
It IS that simple folks. Do people still overdo it? Sure! But here is this method presented: “I resent the PC culture that pressures me out of laughing when someone slips on a banana’ versus “I resent the common decency culture that won’t let me make fun of a person tripping on a banana.”–yes, that IS a little extreme. But it happens to be true. Now try this one: “I resent the common decency culture pressuring me out of mocking a Muslim woman or a Jewish Rabbi or a Transgendered man.” Doesn’t make you sound very classy, huh? But I can do it at home in the mirror, so can you.
I have a lot more work to do. I am an individual whose life is braided privilege and disadvantage. That means my personal effort does not stop, and as my late grandfather Philip E. FitzPatrick would say–it does not get me a ticker-tape parade for doing the right thing. So it certainly does not afford me the ability to tell anyone else what to do. All the same, it’s another perspective and I am not alone in it and I offer it on this platform as a new year of deep uncertainty and concern begins. if I can’t be upfront about how my mind changed and what it changed from, I have 1000% lost any excuse to ask for a change in anyone else or society at large.
- * “A political dictionary for 2017” is forthcoming.
- **There will be swearing on this blog. Among other Shenanigans.