Friday, April 21, 2006

What's So Wrong With Being Politically Correct?

There's a sure-fire way right-wingers have of shutting down any discussion of racism, the inequality of wealth, or whether the disabled, immigrants and gays should enjoy the same rights we take for granted.

A right-winger will accuse you of "political correctness" and that's supposed to end the discussion. Nothing you say at that point is supposed to be relevant, because you are then assumed to not be rational, but driven by a weak-kneed inability to cope with reality.

Back in February, before Valentine's Day, I was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune. A Tribune reporter knew that I urged people to limit or eliminate their consumption of chocolate because cocoa farmers in West African quite literally use children as slave labor, even keeping them chained in pens at night to keep them from escaping.

She referred me to a fellow reporter at the paper. This journalist, before she started the interview, read her lead, which made reference to making "politically correct" Valentines gifts that didn't involve chocolate or use of diamonds funding civil wars in Africa, etc. "That term 'pc' is really condescending," I told her, urging her to not be lazy and take the moral issues raised by these boycotts seriously.

I then said that I believed consumer boycotts were not enough and that real change could only happen if we forced it on our political system by boycotting politicians who didn't insist on fair trade

By the way, the reporter kept her snide reference to "political correctness" in the lead but didn't use any quotes from me.

The irony is, as Michael Kinsley once pointed out, that the people who most regularly blast "political correctness" are the chief practitioners of the craft. If, for instance, you point out that certain writers for Universal Press Syndicate, like say Ann Coulter, are hard core racists and perhaps we should not read newspapers or watch shows that include Ann Coulter on the panel, you are immiediately accused of the mortal sin pc-ness. You will certainly be called an advocate of censorship.

Let's review terms here. Censorship involves prior restrain - preventing the expression of ideas from taking place. That's what happens when a government seizes a printing press, or when a mob attacks a writer, or when past leaders that Coulter loves like Augusto Pinochet in Chili, cut off the hands of folk singers he didn't like.

I am deeply devoted to the First Amendment. I am appaled by censorship and wish the American press had not practiced the self-serving "patriotic" self-censorship that allowed us to sink into the morass of the Iraq War.

I am practicing free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment right now and, at least until another terrorirst attack happens, I won't be arrested for it.

The boycott is another form of free speech. It allows an individual to not be co-ppted by corrupt corporations, political parties, publications, etc., that promote oppressive, unjust policies. or attitudes like racism and homophobia

Boycotts were sucessfully used by the black freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s to force national firms like Woolworths to desegregate lunch counters. Boycotts had a prfound effect in the struggle to bring down South Africa's apartheid regime. Threatsa of boycotts by feminists modified sexist editorial policies by leading so-called 'women's magazines."

Yes, boycotts are sometimes used by the right to foster anti-gay hatred, to render obselete the right to choose, and to suppress artistic expression. In these cases, the method of boycott is not immoral, it's the cause.

Which brings me back to political correctness. A number of colunmists and talk show host proudly hail themselves as "politically incorrect." Take Ann Coulter. Here are some gems from the poster girl of anti-PC movement:

On March 15, 2006, she titled a column about Bush White House domestic policy adviser Claude Allen "Revenge of the Queers." Allen was arrested for using credit cards to scam several Virginia department stores out of money. The anti-gay slur is strange, even by Coulter standards, because the Allen story had nothing, even tangentially, to do with homosexuality. The only connection was that Allen, who worked on former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms 1984 re-election campaign apparently responded to Democratic opponent James Hunt's charge that Helms was supported by "right-wing nuts" by saying that Helms would be justified in proclaiming Hunt was backed by "queers." That weak connection was enough for Coulter to sneak the homophobic slur in her column headline.

When mentally-challenged University of Colorado Ethics professor Ward Churchill fueled outrage over an old essay he wrote in which he ridiculously compared the 9/11 victims killed in the World Trade Center to "little Eichmans," Coulter didn't stop at criticizing Churchill's obvious, and disgusting, overreach, but had to belittle Churchill's racial background, titling her column "The Little Injun Who Could."

Coulter used the term "raghead" to describe Arabs in a speech to a young Republican group. In a colmn written in the wake of the riots over the Danish Mohammad cartoons, Coulter displayed her supple intellect by referring to Muslims as "jihad monkeys," "camel jockeys" and "tent merchants." Coulter at one point asked if to liberals "the conventions of civilized behavior, personal hygiene and grooming [are] inapplicable when Muslims are involved?" In another column over the Dubai ports controversy, Coulter refrers to Mulsims as "savages." On February 23 of this year, Coulter attacked White House correspondant Helen Thomas, born in Kentucky of Lebanese parents, calling the reporter an "old Arab" who doesn't belong "within yards of the president."

Hilarious. And I thought "All in the Family" was off the air.

Here are a couple of more "thoughts" expressed by Ann Coulter:

"Muhammad makes L. Ron Hubbard look like Jesus Christ. Most people think nothing of assuming every Scientologist is a crackpot. Why should Islam be subject to presumption of respect because it's a religion?"

"This is my idea…I think airlines ought to start advertising: "We have the most civil rights lawsuits brought against us by Arabs."

Coulter may be changing the targets of her racism. Al Franken, in a column in the "Huffington Post," relates that Coulter, during a debat held at the University of Judaism, opened by saying:

"It was fascinating being here for the demonstrations this weekend . . . I guess that's why I didn't get clean towels in my hotel room this morning."

Coulter unfortunately continued: "I haven't seen so many agitated Mexicans since the World Cup Soccer Games were in L.A." "As offended as the diners were, the waiters were pissed. Ann was actually dumb enough to drink her coffee afterwards," Franken writes. Perhaps Coulter is auditioning for a regular spot on the Lou Dobbs show.

Coulter's website also carries advertisements for fellow right-wing media maven Michael Savage. As the Southern Poverty Law Center "Intelligence Report" revealed in its Sping 2004 issue:

"That Savage is also a bigot is well known. He has called inner-city victims of gunfire "ghetto slime." He refers to non-white nations as "Turd World" countries. Latinos, he says, "breed like rabbits." He regularly bashes gays and liberals." And although he is himself Jewish, Savage often refers to Jews as "Christophobes" and called one Jewish lawyer a "hooknose."

The multi-million dollar careers of Coulter, her fellow travelers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and the slightly less lucrative career of Michael Savage prove that political correctness is an illusion. There are no oppressive liberal forces preventing conservatives from spewing bile against gays, Jews, lesbians, blacks, immigrants, Arabs or Americans of Arab descent or Muslims in general. The so-called liberal media has no moral agenda, driven by left-wing or right-wing bias. It is simply driven by cash. If it is easy to find liberal professors in the humanities, it as easy to find far right-wingers in the business and economics departments. The government certainly doesn't enforce standards of political correctness. The FCC fines Howard Stern a king's ransom for frat boy sex jokes and imposes monster fines on CBS forthe Janet Jackson bare breat flap but finds no concerns about "indecency" when radio and television talking heads blurt diatribes more appropriate for a Klan rally than airwaves theoretically owned by the public, Arab Americans included.

Politically correctness is a myth propogated by the right-wing. No one is forcing anyone to be "PC" any more than any one is forced to not say "Merry Christmas." The right uses the "politically incorrect label" as a license for bigotry. There used to be another word for political correctness. Once upon a time, when decent people considered it a sign of ignorance to call Arab people "ragheads," we called being pc "politeness" or "tolerance."


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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