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"Politically Correct"

     "Cultural Relativism" is the current term used by right-
wing, know-nothing America-firsters to attack what's left of the
old idea of equality.  Western anthropology never did take into
account, let alone condemn, Western colonialism.  The Ph.D.
grave-robbers took part in blatant cultural imperialism.  Now the
right-wingers sneer and mock, suggesting that Native American
Studies, and Chicano Studies and Black Studies can be dismissed
as irrelevant and harmful, simply by comparing cannibals with
bones in their noses to Thomas Jefferson.  In truth, Tom is no
paragon, no matter who copulated with whom at Monticello two
centuries ago.  His participation in the unmitigated evil of
slave-owning remains conclusive.
     The on-going confusion about the phrase "politically
correct" is part of the same age-old white-is-better prejudice. 
Persons who do not believe in equality but pretend to sometimes
mock those who are trying in practical ways to even things out,
in areas of race, sex, disability and age.  They use the phrase
"politically correct" to belittle attempts to bring about the
changes that will have to occur if equality is ever to come into
reality.  They call Affirmative Action racist, or sexist!  They
brag that they and their actions are not "politically correct."
     Belief in inequality is invariably at the root of this
behavior.  There is even confusion about the origin of the
phrase.  Evidently it first turned up in Politburo directives in
the Soviet Union in the 20's, when the experiment with conformity
of thought was being perpetrated by Josef Stalin.  It was more
recently picked up by ultra-conservatives on university campuses,
as a means of attack on what was seen as the last stronghold of
"liberals" and "liberalism."  It was a way of calling liberals
     The attack targeted attempts to enhance cultural awareness
for minorities, especially those special studies departments.  It
also included attacks on Women's Studies and feminism generally,
even though women are in no sense a minority.  Now the thrust is
against "cultural relativism," as if the culture of gold miners
was superior to that of the hunter/gatherers who are being
exterminated.  The exterminators cling to their connectedness to
the likes of Thomas Jefferson, and the "primitive" people die,
with their culture.  People who object, however mildly, to this
process are dismissed with a laugh.  Some of them dismiss rather
easily because they own stock in gold mines.
     A display at the National Museum of American History, a
branch of the Smithsonian Institution, was attacked recently by
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY, who saw it as part of "the drift
toward political correctness."  He didn't like references to "the
invasive forms of Christianity" that came into the American
Southwest.  "The characterization used in the display seems more
apt for a plague rather than as a means of describing the
evolution of Christianity in this country," he said.  
     But the arrival of the Spanish was indeed very like a
plague, from the perspective of the people who were already here. 
The Senator says that the museum display makes Christianity look
bad.  But it really was bad -- very, very bad.  Any other
description of it would be false.  The Christians did not bring
Truth; they brought violence, forced submission and conformity. 
The Senator is doing the same thing, dismissing truthfulness as
"political correctness," and fearing what he sees as a drift
toward that dreadful viewpoint.
     The phrase is continuing to evolve.  In an article on the
history of hot dogs, in THE SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, the author
inserts two gratuitous references to political correctness,
neither of which advance any argument at all.  They are just
plunked into the text, for cuteness.  "Who doesn't like hot dogs? 
Some of you in the politically correct seats may be excused," he
writes.  Later he does it again.  "At present hot dogs enjoy a
repute that, if not quite politically correct, is at least
politically inoffensive."  He refers, I suppose, to the questions
raised in the past about what's really in those things, and how
nutritious they really are, and what diseases you could get from
eating them, and questions about chemical preservatives -- all
that.  But hot dogs are not politically anything at all!  
     We have come to the point where the phrase can be dragged in
anywhere, only to be pistol-whipped by all and sundry, totally
outside the original context of the phrase.  To keep all this
clear, we'll have to stick close to the idea of equality, and
watch for what the speaker or writer really means.

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Copyright © 1999 Harry Willson

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