Monday, December 3, 2007

Political correctness--The middle way

Don Imus is back on the air this morning and I'm hearing folks attributing his earlier firing to political correctness run amok. Have we, as some claim, become too politically correct?

I think no...and yes.

I am glad that society is not so willfully blind to the way the system marginalizes and denigrates those outside the mainstream. I am relieved that using racist images of blacks, Native Americans and Asians to sell products is no longer widely accepted. It is a good thing that homophobic slurs aren't so easily spoken in polite company. We should be glad that calling a group of student athletes "nappy-headed hoes" provokes outrage and discussion about European beauty standards and black female sexuality. There was a time when a comment like that would have been met with silence and tacit agreement.

Political correctness works when it challenges memes based on bias and forces us to think about how our actions and speech affect others. Political correctness goes wrong when it stamps out thoughtful discussion of ideas for fear of offending.

For example, would any network television executive allow All in the Family to air today?

Norman Lear's All in the Family highlighted the ridiculousness of bigotry, while humanizing people who mistakenly hold prejudiced views. It was a wonderful, groundbreaking sitcom that found a way to highlight society's ills, including racism, sexism, religion and homophobia. I remember this episode. I was in elementary school when it aired. Even then I could recognize that Archie Bunker and George Jefferson were decent men with flawed bigoted views. But today, I imagine the scene above would never see the light of day on CBS, where it originally aired--too much chance of offending someone.

Sometimes political correctness overrides common sense. It allows us to avoid wrestling with hot button topics like race, gender or sexuality. We are all too precious about the things that are important to us. Christians are slighted by any challenge to their belief system, while atheists feel oppressed by any mention of God or spirituality. Blacks will brook no discussion of the ways our community is destroying itself, while white people refuse to acknowledge their inherent privilege. No one wants to talk. No one wants to think. No one wants to be challenged. No one wants to be uncomfortable.

There has to be a middle way. There is humanity in being sensitive to other people's feelings, finding out what hurts them and why, and then honoring that. And it is socially responsible to evaluate whether ideas that have been widely acceptable, really should be. But each of us needs to check our sensitivity. Is it rational? Am I so busy being offended that I avoid discussion, and miss opportunities to teach and connect with people who are different from me?

What do you think? Has political correctness gone too far?


Shelly said...

I'm with you Tami, it's a definite yes/no two sided coin issue! I think that Political Correctness is the popular post-modern term given for what is essentially intended to be human decency. Thinking about the feelings of others when choosing your words and actions.

This can of course get a bit silly when it becomes a means of suppressing healthy discussion for fear that one might be reviled or ridiclued. I think the key is to be kind, be compassionate, be humane. But let's not lose our capacity for rational thought and open debate.

mrshadow33 said...

Excellent points Tami. I think that political correctness has become somewhat of a double edged sword. I believe if we speak from the heart and as shelly said to be compassionate and humane, then there will be a lot less problems. Oh Tami, I was watching All in the Family over the weekend and saw the classic Christamas episode. The one where Mike's friend who was a draft dodger clashed with Archie. Classic stuff and I'm in agreement with you that it would probably not be shown on network television today.

DMB said...

Yeah, I was pretty surprised when Imus was 'punished' as he was. I mean, what he said was crass and insulting, but...

And in the end the 'outrage' wasn't really genuine because lo and behold, guess who's back?

And Dog the Bounty Hunter will be back, too.

Why do we have to play these games all in the name of Political Correctness? It's so dishonest.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Tami,

I think political correctness has not gone far enough. Otherwise why are some African Americans using the N word like it's a conjunction.

The problem to me is that groups expect others to mind their language and then don't admonish members of the group to do the same.

Clean your own house before attempting to clean another's.

Tami said...

DMB, it is racism as theatre. People were more enamored of the outrage surrounding Imus than they were truly concerned about racism in America. If folks were really outraged, well, he wouldn't be back on the air.

Tami said...

Too true, MDC. The racial climate in this country being what it is, I don't understand why some blacks fight to hold on to "the n word." The black community most definitely needs to check its language and biases while we're monitoring other folks.

Liz said...

Sometimes it seems like being PC is used as a sort of "gotcha" response. Folks are just waiting to jump on some sort of insensitive comment or blatant racism so they can rake somebody over the coals for it.

I think Imus has said lots of crass, wrong things in his days on the air and our culture, at this low watermark of history, enjoys it. And it's all about money. He makes money so he's back on the air.

I just wondered where was the outcry when these gossip sites were blasting pictures of Britney Spears' crotch. Did folks organize a boycott or threaten to shut them down? Nope. And that mess is just as offensive and hurts people. It hardens people's hearts.

Luna said...

Tami, Many good points in this post! I would agree with you and other comments that PC has gone too far AND not far enough. (Funny, I too saw an episode of All in the Family recently and was reminded of what a great show it was.)

I did not agree with the rehiring of Don Imus--seems like he was only gone for 5 minutes. In fact, it would have been ok with me if he was fired before making those gross remarks. : )

However, that said, I do believe that 'political correctness' which is mostly about correcting speech, does often function to cut off much needed dialog about racism and prejudice in thoughts and actions, which is actually what needs to change the most.

Average folks, including people without a lot of education often mix it up verbally or speak in ways that the highly literate people might find crass. But sometimes those crass discussions can be good ones.


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