Friday, September 02, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and 'Political Correctness' Conservative Style - Part 1

Conservatives are quick to cry 'political correctness' when their racist comments are attacked.  But they fail to recognize attacking others who they disagree with has long been a conservative indulgence.

The  disapproval expressed by many football fans and others of San Francisco football player Colin Kaepernick is very much in the vein of conservative 'political correctness.'  By their standards, he must stand up when the national anthem is played.  To sit is offensive because it is seen as unpatriotic and disrespectful to what they hold dear..  Just as using racist, sexist, and homophobic epithets is offensive to many liberals because they see it as perpetuating discrimination against different groups of (generally less powerful) Americans.

At its simplest, 'political correctness' today means to conservatives 'when liberals tell us what we can't say or do."

Simple may be easy, but it glosses over a much more complicated set of realities that underly the idea of political correctness.

I've written about this before - as in this piece on political correctness and Thanksgiving.

My most succinct take on this is:

When white, male, Protestants had most of the power in the US (probably they still do hold more wealth and positions of power than any other single group), they could say and do as they pleased.  Their prejudices and narratives were enforced by churches, schools, and the law.  Blacks had to tolerate the socially humiliating and economically devastating deprivations of slavery and then Jim Crow and the culturally embedded racism of US institutions.  The values of the dominant class were imposed on them.  And on non-Protestants.  A key impetus for the creation of Catholic schools, for example, was to escape the prejudice against Catholics and indoctrination to Protestantism in public schools.

The dominant culture, quite naturally, saw their beliefs as the only true view of the how the world is.  I say naturally because those in the dominant culture experienced their world view both at home and in the institutions outside the home.  Blacks, people of other religions,  experienced that dominant societal world view outside the home, but at home they had a second  world view.  The idea that there are more than one social realities is easier to grasp for people who grow up with two or more realities.  The dominant culture also had the power to impose their values  on everyone else.  And those who opposed them - whether women, or Indians, or communists, or atheist, or the poor - were censored or worse for opposing the power structure of the dominant world view.  

It's only been since those outsider groups gained greater strength and ability to stand up and protest policies and practices that make them second class citizens, that the defenders of the status quo borrowed the term 'political correctness' from left wing academic circles, and used 'political correctness' to label those actions which challenged their own belief system and power to enforce it on others.

That bubble of power - where your own beliefs are backed up by the economic, social, and political systems - coincides roughly with what Peggy McIntosh coined 'white privilege.'   Before the women's suffrage and civil rights movements was a time when white Americans, particularly male, straight, Protestants, could say and do what they wanted, because what they wanted to say was backed by the society of the US.  So what they said and did seemed to be obviously 'true.'

Women shared the white part, but had to put up with being second class citizens to males,  forbidden to vote and subservient in many ways to their husbands.  And looked down on if they didn't have husbands.  Atheists and homosexuals, if they identified themselves as such, could lose their jobs and face violence.

The civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights movements all worked to break down that privilege to  be able to abuse 'outsiders.'  The Jim Crow South is the most obvious example of that privilege, but it existed and still exists in many less visible ways.

White males usually haven't seen this as a loss of their privilege to compete for jobs without competition from women and people of color, or to make sexually or racially demeaning comments, and to be treated preferentially by banks, employers,  and universities.  They saw it rather as a loss of rights, since they'd always taken them for granted.  The other groups, according to the myth of self-made man simply were inferior to white males and thus didn't do as well.

"Political Correctness' is the term they began using when people called them on their privilege.  When the others demanded to be treated equally.

This is more than I intended to say about this, but it's a topic that I've spent time examining.  As I was writing this I came up with more dimensions for thinking about it and the conflicts raised with, say, free speech rights.  But I need more time to clarify those thoughts.

So for now, I'd just say that much of the conflict over political correctness really could be handled by Miss Manners and a few good kindergarten teachers helping their wards learn common courtesy.  But there are also more complex aspects.  I hope to look at those aspects in a follow-up post.

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