Monday, June 08, 2009

Ta-Nehisi's Reflection on Political Correctness and My Response

The spelling mistakes can be distracting but the point Ta-Nehisi makes should not be ignored -

"I thought about all of this last night, after Lindsey Graham made his remarks about Sonia Sotomayor:

"My criticism about her comment and the speech that she gave wasn't that I think this lady is a racist," Graham said, later continuing: "There is no evidence of that, but this statement is troubling and I did tell her this, 'If I said it, it would be over for me. No matter how well-intentioned I was and no matter how much I tried to put it in context, that would be it.' And you all know that."

He added, "being an average, every-day white guy ... that does not exactly make me feel good hearing a sitting judge say that."

This is the sort of logic that leads people to complain that there is no white history month. It's my great nightmare that I, or my son, ever sound like that--smug, self-satisfied, unreflective, whiny and narcissistic. It's the sort of comment that betrays a man bereft of any deep interest in this country's history. But if you've never had to grapple with who you are in relation to other people, if you've never had to worry much about courting people who aren't like you, if you've never struggled with being politically correct, it's exactly the sort of thing you'd say.

It is, in a word, ignorance. I keep thinking about that Chris Rock joke about black people vs. niggers, but with a twist--Conservative love to not know: "Man, I don't be speaking no Spanish!!" or "Man I don't be knowing how to pronounce no Sotomayor! Call that Latin chick Sodameyer!!" or "Man I don't know nothing about that food she eats!! Tell her to get a cheeseburger--without mustard!"

I'm a liberal, not so much because I doubt the free market, not so much because I believe in universal health care, not so much because of the enviornment, but because of politicial correctness. As awkward as it may be, it at least demonstrates an attempt to see the world through another lense. This is a daunting task, and failing at it is so much more honorable than not even trying. Maybe you never quite get there, but it holds out a hope for your children, that unreflective, false symetry does not. Conservatives got away with this game for years. The luxury of being the majority in a democracy is the right to act like other people don't exist. But the world is changing around them and Birnam Wood is on the march.

If nothing else, remember this sentence:

"The luxury of being the majority in a democracy is the right to act like other people don't exist."

Now, do I believe in censorship? No, and if political correctness (right as well as left) is defined in those terms then it is self-defeating. It stands to follow that if we can learn from the "other" people they can learn from us. They too might be living in their own little world. But if political correctness refers to an exercise, a process, and a set of values grounded in a process of learning about and thinking about the "other," then I'm all for it.

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