Last Friday, I went down to London to visit a dear friend of mine. She introduced me to her friends and I got into a spirited conversation with one of her colleagues on a variety of topics. We talked about problematic artists (how do we view artists that commit crimes or in some way fall from grace?), happiness, satisfaction and a variety of other topics. I was very much enjoying the conversation, but felt some apprehension as he said that society has become too politically correct.
In months past, I probably would have gone on the attack, my own insecurity spoiling what had hitherto been a mutually enjoyable conversation. Fortunately, after some gentle chiding from my friends, my instinct now is to seek understanding, not conflict. So I asked him what he meant by political correctness and he responded by speaking about feeling that there were things that people weren’t allowed to say for fear of censorship. I empathised, but didn’t agree with his assertion. Instead of saying that, I asked him what he thought people weren’t able to say today that he thought they should be allowed to. He thought for a while, before saying “you’ve got me there”. He couldn’t think of an example.
What’s funny is I know exactly what he means when he says that he feels political correctness has gone too far. I know because it is a message that is being constantly promulgated. People like Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist, have become famous for railing against the “culture” of political correctness. His videos on YouTube have racked up millions of views and he has a growing group of fanatical followers.
Figures as varied as Donald Trump and John Cleese have talked of the dangers of political correctness. But what is the danger? And what do people mean when they say “political correctness”?
Whilst working in education, I vividly remember a middle manager that I was friends with saying that political correctness had got so out of hand that he felt that he, as a white man, was persecuted for his privilege. Suppressing a smile, I asked if he felt that persecution at his all white, mostly male middle manager’s meetings or any of the all white, mostly male conferences he went on with other middle managers. Sensing my irritation, he changed the topic. As much as I try to come up with alternatives, I can’t escape the feeling that many who say that political correctness has gone too far are people of privilege who feel threatened by the prospect of minorities grabbing a slice of that privilege. Society tilts favourably towards cis-gendered heterosexual white men (the irony is, I’m not sure if it’s politically correct to say that – Ed), many of whom have worked extremely hard to be successful. The lie is that they have got there solely through hard work. They have also had opportunity. Lots of people work hard. Take Steve Arnott, star of Sean McAllister’s documentary A Northern Soul:
I’ve worked, hard, all my life…and I’ve got f**k all
Or James and Mary and all the other JAMs that Theresa May was so interested in before the last election. As Marla Daniels said in The Wire, “The game is rigged”. It seems to me that many that decry political correctness recognise that the game becoming fair will be disadvantageous to them.
In times past criticising the following things would have been seen as “political correctness gone mad”:
- Saying blacks were less intelligent than other races (and difficult to hire because of it)
- Saying women’s place was in the kitchen
- Saying the LGBTQ+ community were sexual deviants who wanted to sleep with children [touches finger to ear piece] hold on a moment…
…sorry, that one is still ok in some quarters
- Calling the working classes lazy…oh wait, never mind. That is still fine, right Elizabeth, Dominic and Priti?
The next time you are talking to someone who says that political correctness has gone mad, ask them what it is they feel people should be allowed to say. Their answer might surprise them.
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