Ed. Note: After two prominent intellectuals, a New York Times reporter and an award winning British media personality failed to debate the question ,“Be it Resolved: What You Call Political Correctness, I Call Progress,” former Fault Lines contributors Chris Seaton and Mario Machado attempted to succeed where four others failed. Bellow Chris’ argument.
Those who know me or read me work realize I’m no fan of political correctness. I abhor the idea of “trigger warnings” in academic syllabi. The notion that my children will be taught growing up there’s more than two genders is absurd to me. And I find it ridiculously infantile that at the start of each semester, college professors must ask students, “What is your preferred set of pronouns?”
Despite all this, today I write in defense of political correctness because it has brought us some degree of meaningful change, despite what the Perry Van Ness* polo-shirt-wearing crowd might think.
Political correctness leveled the playing field for the better when it came to groups like women, people of color and LGBTQIAAP2** individuals. It means that as much as we hate to admit it, men know it’s not okay to call a female colleague in the workplace “sugar tits” in passing. Heterosexual men and women march in the streets during Pride celebrations with people who love differently than them.
And it meant everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, could marry into the Kardashian family.***
As I swallow each of those statements with a bit of bile, I will acknowledge political correctness went horribly wrong somewhere. It was a great thing when it was giving us equal treatment for people who were different than us. Our society started jettisoning the idea of political correctness when it stopped asking us to be polite to each other and demanded some person you might find a tad shady share a bathroom with your children.
It’s hard to pinpoint when political correctness started going too far. It’s easy to see when peak political correctness harmed our country. On September 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton referred to those who disagreed with the notion that it was “her time” to be President of the United States as a “basket of deplorables.”
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” Clinton said. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
In that moment, many of the people who didn’t care for Hillary Clinton hardened their hearts. It’s not fun to be called a racist, sexist, transohomophobic bigot. Especially if you may hold some views progressive folks refer to as “on the wrong side of history.”
Those “deplorable” people who didn’t like political correctness showed up on election day and gave HRC and everyone who chased the dragon of political correctness towards the blinding light of the sun the biggest “fuck you” possible. They voted a loudmouthed braggart of a New Yorker into the highest possible office our country has because, well, fuck you, that’s why.
Since January 20, 2017, that blanket rejection of political correctness has divided us more than ever before. Without the pretense of seeing each other as individuals, but now as oppressed members of groups, Antifa dons black and fights the Proud Boys openly in the streets. Colleges can’t invite conservative speakers to campus without six figure security fees.
Our increasingly polarized society plunged into the morass of calling media outlets we don’t like “fake news.” Social media is either an online hate mob or increasingly irritating arguments with your Aunt Tammy because she won’t stop sharing those InfoWars posts and she doesn’t get how nasty that Alex Jones fellow is.
More often than not, we’re seeing our fellow man (or woman, let’s not be sexist here) as not an individual or part of a group. We’re seeing them as an Other. And that’s not the place we need to be.
So today, I’m proposing we return to a certain kind of political correctness. It’s called “civility.” It means you’ll forgive someone for calling a person an Eskimo because they’re rednecks and can’t pronounce “Inuit” to save their lives. Give a person a pass for calling a Lakota an Indian if they can’t spell Lakota right.
And please don’t get upset when someone says “gay” instead of using a ten letter acronym.
Talk to people. See them for the individuals they are instead of members of a group. Get to know them and love them for all the crazy, weird shit they think. Even if at the end of the day you think that person’s a nice guy who’s wrong about everything, love them for the fact they took the time to tell you about it.
I close by paraphrasing from my favorite comedian turned prophet, Bill Hicks. You have a simple choice to make: fear or love. Which will you choose? Only one answer will throw open the doors we’ve closed and let us see all of mankind as one.
Even if it means you have to grit your teeth and use someone’s preferred pronouns once they ask you to do it. It’ll be a pain in the ass, but they’ll know you made the effort because you care.
*No, Proud Boys, I’m not talking about you right now. I’ll get to that later. (suckers)
**I understand the number 2 in the current abbreviation stands for “two spirited.” Somewhere down the line you’ve got to be fucking kidding me with this. I’m trying hard here.
***But would you really want to? Honestly?