In Defense of Political Correctness

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“Political correctness” and one’s opposition to it is one of the more common yet vague concepts in contemporary political discourse. People have gotten too “politically correct”, too “sensitive”, too “coddled”; these are common talking points taken for granted by many.

This is absolutely true. And it’s absolutely a good thing.

Let’s begin with one stark example from a 2003 episode of The Daily Show, when liberal icon Jon Stewart mocks then-presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich for daring to suggest he would consider nominating a trans person to the Supreme Court — an idea he finds so kooky it’s self-evidently worthy of a pot shot. After playing a clip of the Ohio congressmen suggesting he would “nominated any…gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered person to the Supreme Court”, Stewart mugs for the camera, pauses and snarks, “Yes… all rise for the honorable Justice Chick with Dick”.

Such a joke would be unthinkable in 2017. This current reality, where acknowledging the baseline humanity of trans people is taken for granted, is a direct result of radically shifting norms, which are, themselves, a result of the so-called “PC Police”; those who write-in, protest, push back, and act generally hostile to those deemed insensitive to their communities or their allies’ communities. The reality is political correctness — such that it is — works.

The shaming, finger-wagging, and social media pile-ons are an essential part of creating more inclusive and humanizing discourse. These types of “politically correct” backlashes aren’t meant to make people feel good or comfortable, they’re meant to do the exact opposite.

But for many anti-PC types to name something is to somehow summon it. To define the forces discriminating against them is to “obsess over” “identity politics”.

“It’s almost as if you endlessly call people racists and bigots they’ll eventually get fed up and turn on you”, progressive-turned-alt-center media personality David Rubin said in the wake of Trump’s win.

“But it’s not only racists who reduce people to a single identity,” New York Times David Brooks lamented. “These days it’s the anti-racists, too. To raise money and mobilize people, advocates play up ethnic categories to an extreme degree.”

Part of the anti-PC ideology is to trick people into thinking calling the sky blue is what makes it so – to imply that, before the very moment they called something racist or transmisogynist or sexist, everything was actually hunky dory.

In his list of examples of PC-ness gone amuck, Jon Chait finishes with, “a theater group at Mount Holyoke College recently announced it would no longer put on The Vagina Monologues in part because the material excludes women without vaginas”. Absurd on its face, right? Let’s take a closer look.

The story, first reported on by far-right media, eventually made its way up to The Washington Post. In an interview by The Daily Hampshire Gazette, with the person being dragged, it all seemed rather low key and informal:

[Erin] Murphy said a major component of the decision was that Eve Ensler’s play tended to exclude transgender women without vaginas, and that Project Theatre also wanted to give Mount Holyoke students a chance to create a new show themselves.

“It is a 20-year-old show,” Murphy said Sunday of “The Vagina Monologues,” first produced in 1996. She added that the result of a campus-wide student discussion was that, “it was time to hear some new perspectives, and if that included transgender perspectives, that was great.”
So, a small group of theater performers collectively decided to retire a 20-year old play so the definition of womanhood could be more inclusive in a women’s college that had just recently opened to trans women? The theater group was not affiliated with the campus and it wasn’t some draconian top-down decision, it was arrived at in good faith, in an attempt to be more accepting. This is no dystopia, this is progress.

But even the most reasonable examples of PC excess when all added up still aren’t that significant, especially in the face of the tremendous forces they’re trying to undo.

Countless brown and black faces are rounded up for petty drug and theft offenses and imprisoned. Countless black and brown countries are bombed to ashes. Millions of Latinxs arer deported for the "crime" of seeking a better life. The machinery of white supremacy — complete with acquitting police officers who gun black people down on camera — churns along unabated and without pause.

Many, for example, criticized Hillary Clinton’s sudden embrace of “identity politics” in the primaries and general election as tone-deaf to economic concerns but this is a canard. It’s not as if Clinton would have embraced radical left economic policies had she not co-opted “identity politics”, she would have just been a centrist economically and ignored the urgent issues of racism and LGBTQ rights as such. In the 1990’s, “Clintonism” was center-economics mixed with cynical race-baiting, the latest iteration of Clintonism–center economics mixed with appeals to racial and LGBTQ inclusion — is obviously preferable.
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There is not one mention of China... I am disappoint

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