Final Thoughts: Searching For The C In PC

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As we bring PC Week to a close, I’d like to address why I thought it worthwhile to broach this issue that is so contentious on college campuses. In wondering how to close things out, I found myself pondering the “correct” in political correctness. Can we pursue the “correct” without the “political”?

PC by definition is subjective: one person’s offhand joke or inconvenient statistic is another person’s hate speech. It is also a matter of degree. One reader comment this week, now deleted, went far beyond the merely incorrect and into the realm of vile. We should all work towards eradicating discrimination and not standing in the way of others’ happiness, but serious issues are often clouded by PC pettiness and authoritarianism.

To cite a few recent examples, Harvey Mudd College had to cancel a mad scientist-themed party because the term “mad scientist” supposedly trivializes mental illness (personally I think objecting to a mad-scientist party trivializes mental illness); then there’s the identity-politics-run-amok notion of inventing new sexual orientations more accurately akin to personality traits; and physically preventing your fellow students from attending a campus lecture because you disagree with the speaker’s ideas (see this video for example, skipping to the 3:50 mark if you want to cut to the chase). Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts had to cancel its kimono parties, and it’s a surprise protesters allowed the institution to continue displaying Monet’s “La Japonaise.” Finally, this year Mount Holyoke College canceled its annual production of the play “The Vagina Monologues” because it was now deemed insensitive to women who have penises.

The photo above is from the Berkeley campus in 1964. Critics of PC often invoke the free speech movement of the ’60s, saying it was the fight to be able to say anything, but I take an increasingly ironic view of that. Those students weren’t protesting for the right to say anything, they were protesting for the right to say radical things. They won, and the PC campus culture of today is the result of trading one orthodoxy for another. Of course radical speech has snowballed with the snowflake generation, to the point that a recent widely circulated article at Vox.com bore the headline, “I’m a liberal professor and my students terrify me.”

My own run-ins with PC campus culture were memorable. In my senior year at Fullerton in 1993, all the atheletes had to attend a new gender equity seminar. The women on the fencing team all went to one seminar, while the men went to another. It was held a lecture hall that seated 150, and we were packed with tough jocks from things like the wrestling and rugby teams. One thing stands out in my mind, and that’s when the speaker, a police officer, said we were going to do a role-playing scenario and selected a loud and cocky guy from the crowd. In a drawn-out scene, he gradually had the student submit to his commands until eventually the student was on his knees with hands tied behind his back. The climax of the scene was when the officer stuck his crotch in the student’s face and said emphatically, “Now suck my dick.” The officer concluded the scenario with something like, “Now you know what it’s like to be a girl.” The sledgehammer rhetoric and starting point that we were all rapists in embryo merely because we played a sport were troubling to me at the time. But today such seminars are becoming mandatory for all students, not just athletes, with plenty of controversy.

After spending the summer studying French at Berkeley, I lasted one semester in the master’s program in Comparative Literature at San Francisco State. It didn’t take me long to figure out I wasn’t cut out for academia (not to mention the slim job prospects). Comp Lit is one of the more radical departments in the humanities, and in the classroom I felt that certain assertions and interpretations offered by professors and classmates were to be accepted without question. In one meeting with a female professor to discuss my term paper, I excitedly announced that I had just discovered the work of a fascinating scholar, Camille Paglia, who had recently written “Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson.” Paglia devoted extensive chapters to the literature of 19th century dandyism, one of my chief interests. But my professor became visibly uncomfortable at the mention of her name, informed me that no one took Paglia’s work seriously, and that it would reflect poorly upon me to use her as a source. Paglia is a lesbian and self-identifying feminist from a working-class Catholic background, but her views fell outside the feminist orthodoxy. She wasn’t politically correct. This kind of silencing of different viewpoints preciesly by people who otherwise champion embracing different viewpoints irked me for its hypocrisy.

However, being critical of PC excesses doesn’t make one apathetic to social justice issues, and I’d like to share two recent anecdotes in which I tried in my own imperfect way to find the “correct” in PC.

One morning a couple of weeks ago I was checking the news headlines from around the web. I briefly surfed a story on Salon.com that was critical of Michelle Malkin, a conservative pundit with whom I’m only familiar with because there are so few Filipino American women among conservative pundits. In the piece the white male writer referred to her as a “right-wing rage monkey.” I don’t know much about Malkin’s beliefs, but I do know one thing: “monkey” is a racial slur that goes back to the Filipino-American War of 1899. When I lived in Los Angeles I had Filipino neighbors, a doctor, a large group of badminton players that allowed me into their circle, and a girlfriend with whom I still plan to be talking to when I’m in the old folks home. By Salon.com’s own standards of sensitivity, such a racial slur should be unacceptable. I suspect the author didn’t know its imperialist legacy, but, once again, by Salon.com’s own standards of social justice, racism that is unconscious or  unintentional is still inexcusable. I spent the day tweeting at both Salon and the author, asking them to edit the remark — to “bitch” or “harpy,” perhaps —  and never received a response. I’m sure they would have to concede that simply because you disagree with Ben Carson doesn’t mean it’s socially acceptable to call him by an antebellum slur — “jungle bunny,” for instance. But Filipino Americans aren’t a fashionable group for whom to advocate (the transgender community, in contrast, is certainly having a moment), so I was left with the sense that neither the author nor Salon particularly cared about Pacific Islanders, especially considering the slur was hurled at a member of the opposition.

The other event happened during the summer, when the Black Lives Matter movement had seized national attention. On a sunny afternoon I bicycled over the Triboro Bridge to Randall’s Island in the East River, where there are a number of medical buildings, police and fire academies, and about 150 athletic fields and facilities, including my golf range. As I biked along the main road that snakes around the island, I spied a black body, to use the term employed by Ta-Nehisi Coates, today’s leading African American thinker, whose book “Between The World And Me” had just come out to much media accolades. The body lay on the sidewalk by the bus stop, shirtless, its pants halfway down.

I stopped. Why? It seemed obvious: a fellow human being may be dying. And yet cars drove past, as well as other cyclists. I remembered the police academy being right nearby, so I biked over and told the guys at the entrance booth that someone may need some help. They quickly referred me to the Fire Department booth. I rode over there, where I found an African American male worker who seemed to know what I was talking about, as if he had just passed the sprawled-out man on his way to work. He said he’d call an ambulance.

I returned to the man, who was still sprawled out face down. Now there was an Asian man with a golf bag waiting for the bus. I pointed at the man on the ground with an expression of concern. “Oh, he’s just sleeping,” the man said. Well with 150 grassy fields to choose from, taking a cat-nap on the sidewalk didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Then I spied a police car just as it was passing by. I shouted, and the car came to a halt 50 yards down the road. I rode over and said, “You think maybe you should check out that guy?”

“What guy?” the officer said flatly.

“The guy with his shirt off lying on the ground that you just passed.”

With the same blank expression the officer said he’d come have a look. I stuck around for a few minutes as the officer dealt with the man, who was verbally responsive but did not get up. Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps I could have addressed him myself, offering food and water and seeing if he was OK and just wanted to be left alone on the sidewalk. Perhaps Black Lives Matter members would see a cruel irony in that, blinded by my own whiteness, I flagged down a police officer to attend to a black man. But in those moments I wasn’t thinking about politics. There was no P, only C.

New Yorkers continuing to ignore inconveniences such as black bodies lying shirtless on the sidewalk because it’s not their problem is not social progress. I later recounted the story to a friend, saying how it struck me as ironic that in the age of Black Lives Matter, when it’s so easy to sit at your comfortable desk and try to hashtag your way to a better world, that dozens of people of all races passed this black life over the course of 15 minutes, and no one thought it mattered but the preppy blogger in the pink polo shirt.

I made these small everyday efforts — to correct another white person’s racism and to seek help for someone that needed it — for the “correct” in PC: because I thought they were the right things to do. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

17 Comments on "Final Thoughts: Searching For The C In PC"

  1. Whether you publish this or not, you should know know that you are completely and entirely insufferable.

  2. From the conservatives point of view, is well known the manifested selectiveness of morally wrong subjects picked by the most liberal members of society that uses those issues (just for political reasons along) to exploit and viciously censure –in most cases for the wrong reasons– the inequalities, discrepancies, and cultural differences of “the other” under the banner of political correctness. Often ignoring the used of vitriolic language that if applied the other way around, will demand an instant retraction, apology, a mea culpa and a seppuku of the chosen offender.
    “Political correctness is tyranny with manners.”
    – Charlton Heston

  3. I find that while Christian took an article to communicate well his feelings and position well, I suppose W wins some sort of consolation prize for coming across as completely detestable in one slim sentence.

  4. Black Lives Matter? Not if they’re babies in the the womb.

    Black Lives Matter? Not if they’re taken by other blacks.

    At least that’s the current situation. I disagree entirely: all lives matter, regardless of race or age.

    It appears that Michelle Malkin is viewed as a traitor, because as a “person of color” (what a reprehensible term) she’s supposed to be on the left, raging against the “white patriarchy.” In the same way, black conservatives are also marginalized.

    Christian, you did the right thing in trying to get help for the man you saw, and you also did the right thing by not trying to help him yourself. Unfortunately, in this day and age, you might be putting yourself in harm’s way by helping strangers, especially someplace as warm and friendly as New York Freakin’ City.

  5. Thank you. I’d like to think that you would have done the right thing if you were with me, Henry.

    Or even if you were alone.

  6. I am not surprised that the PC community exists, and I’m not at all opposed to them expressing their opinion. I’m just a little aghast, at this point, that they are even being paid attention to. I think the Mount Holyoke/Vagina Monologue example is just the cherry on the cake. That’s just nuts.

    This isn’t a political point but I think the reason Donald Trump is SO popular right now is because he is very anti-PC. And the admiration for that transcends both political parties. It’s very refreshing and frankly I kinda like that.

    I had a chance to read he deleted comment you were referring to on this site. It was in the “What me? Privileged?” article. The guys comments weren’t as offensive as they were factually baseless. There is a difference between, say the KKK, who are in many respects politically incorrect (they actually held political points) and Louis C.K’s very funny point that he PROBABLY would think twice about eating at an Italian pizzaria owned by two flamboyantly black women. I would think twice before eating there too! Haha (hope that’s not offensive). What’s “political” about that?

  7. Well Chewco, I think you just demonstrated perfectly the difference between political incorrectness and racism of the most malicious kind. Louis CK is a comedian, and examples of situational irony are part of his routine (a soul food restaurant run by two Italians would be the flipside). The KKK is a tad more than merely “in many respects politically incorrect.” They were racist murderers. I assume that when typing that sentence your fingers slipped in a few places.

  8. Five Eyes on Ties | October 18, 2015 at 8:25 pm |

    “…but I take an increasingly ironic view of that. Those students weren’t protesting for the right to say anything, they were protesting for the right to say things that were radical. They won, and the PC campus culture of today is the result of trading one orthodoxy for another.”

    You’re spot on! Whit Stillman (Nick Smith in Metropolitan) said pretty much the same thing:

    “It’s far worse. Our generation is probably the worst since…the Protestant Reformation. It’s barbaric, but a barbarism even worse than the old-fashioned kind. Now barbarism is cloaked with all sorts of self-righteousness and moral superiority…”

  9. It’s such a mad mad world we live in. Imagine how woefully incorrect Ben Franklin would be today. It’s ironic to think that the very freedoms being exploited by the PC police today were laid down by the archetypes of white privilege: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton et.al. It’s also sad to think of how many intellectual Titans where found during that time yet we strain to find their equal in today’s world even with a population base that is infinitely larger.

  10. Christian,
    Absolutely. I was trying to be “toned down.” And I am afraid I over did it. By “in many respects politically incorrect,” I meant they were many unfortunate things INCLUDING racist murders. Of course, their history is clear.

    I am afraid political corrected-ness has had an effect on me too. I hesitate to someone is “fat” even if they weigh +300lbs, and I’d be remiss if I call someone or something “ugly.” I’d quickly be put in my place.

    And I am not trying to make the case that politically incorrectness is admirable either. Just look at the Westboro Baptist Church (although I would like to group them with the KKK, they don’t really do any damage).

    Anyway, going back to your article, regarding the shirtless man: I side with Henry’s point of view. And frankly I am surprised you aren’t used to that sort of thing in NYC. It shouldn’t be normal, but it is unfortunately.

  11. Sorry for leaving out “rather”:

    Now, they want us to believe that by writing “deaf”, rather than “Deaf”, we have made a political choice:

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2015/10/15/responding-to-deafness/

  12. Thank you for the kind words, Christian.

    Old School’s need to correct his post brings up a theme I’ve harped on before: Christian, please install a “preview” feature for comments! It would make us review our comments and therefore help us catch our errors, including html slip-ups.

  13. The most insidious aspect of PC is its Orwellian mien: it requires us to police our own thoughts. Since those who say the wrong thing are guilty of thoughtcrime, the way to avoid censure is to avoid thinking the “wrong” thoughts in the first place. If you don’t think the “wrong” thoughts, then they cannot slip out at inopportune moments.

    Although Orwell was warning us, it seems that the left has taken his books as instruction manuals.

  14. I’ve just learned that professors who prefer the lecture format (as opposed to “active learning”) are discriminating against women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students, in favor of undergraduates who are white, male and affluent.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/opinion/sunday/are-college-lectures-unfair.html
    Permalink: http://nyti.ms/1i6FURP

  15. @Henry

    I’ll look into a plugin for comment preview. Thanks.

    @Old School

    Well this should make a good morning read with my cup of English Breakfast. This generation of college students is increasingly revealed as ever more fragile than we thought. They’re supposed to be intelligent and there to earn an education. Emphasis on earn. It’s too challenging to listen to someone speak and jot down notes? I think growing up on the Internet and smart phones has truly affected their brains.

  16. @Christian and @ Old School

    This article isn’t “new news”, I’ve seen the same criticisms of the lecture system before, and the same alternatives. It’s a valid point, I just deplore the hackneyed “women/poor/minorities” spin they keep giving it. Do the authors, or any intelligent readers, think that American colleges are deliberately keeping a system in place that (shudder! wail!!) DISCRIMINATES?

  17. William Richardson | October 19, 2015 at 4:23 pm |

    @Henry

    Well said. Watch out for the Ministry of Love.

    Will

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