I consider myself fairly left of center when it comes to social issues. I believe in LGBTQ rights and sexual freedom. I believe that people of color face systematic oppression and that should be fixed. I believe women deserve equal pay and equal opportunities to men. I don’t believe it’s my choice, the government’s, or anyone else’s whether a woman has an abortion. I also believe that teaching sex education in the schools would prevent not just abortions, but the spread of STD’s. I believe folks’ religious beliefs should be respected regardless of religion (so long as those beliefs aren’t predatory or used to put down or oppress others). I believe marijuana is no more harmful to society than alcohol and should be legalized. I believe that most porn is okay and that sex work and sex workers should be given legitimacy so long as we’re talking consensual adults. I believe in “reasonable” gun control measures. I also believe that the working class should be given a break and that the super-rich should be taxed more. I believe that small local businesses should be held to different standards than large national and international corporations.
I don’t relate to the idea of a liberal bubble as has been put out recently in the media, but I believe there are some at the extreme left who are out of touch with reality. I believe the same about folks on the extreme right. There are liberal bubbles, conservative bubbles, urban bubbles, rural bubbles, religious bubbles, and so on and so forth. I think most of us surround ourselves with people of similar beliefs and interests. I also think that it’s human nature for us all to tend to watch news that supports our own biases and to balk at news that challenges our beliefs about the world. The problem with bubbles is that we lose touch with the needs of those who aren’t like us, if we even understood them to begin with. The rural dweller who has never experienced being the victim of a hate crime is clueless about why there’s so much animosity against the rebel flag, just as an urban socialite is clueless about the deep rooted affiliation a rural Southerner has toward the same flag. Many against the transgender bathroom issue are truly afraid of sharing the same bathroom, but what they don’t realize is that transgender folks are afraid too. What we need to be doing is looking for solutions that are fair to all and that break down the fears and biases we have against each other.
President Obama recently remarked on the concept of “political correctness.” (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obama-suspect-trumps-definition-political-correctness-mine/story?id=44274981). This article underscores the deep division about what political correctness means. Like Obama, I’ve always believed political correctness was about calling people what they want to be called, avoiding calling people derogatory names, showing courtesy and good manners to others, and being thoughtful that not everyone has the same background or beliefs as I do. I grew up in the rural South and to me this doesn’t seem a far stretch from the concept of good old-fashioned Southern manners. There’s this idea that you may not like the person you are talking to, but you treat them with courtesy and respect (at least publically). Of course, for conservatives, “political correctness” is a code word for hypersensitivity and a feeling of victimization among minority groups. It doesn’t matter that minority groups are systematically oppressed in our culture, and maybe they have legitimate reason to be sensitive about being treated badly or being called certain names. Somehow they should be quiet about it and not get upset when it happens. Ironically, many on the right are also hypersensitive and cry discrimination and victimhood whenever someone challenges their beliefs. Religious fundamentalists are especially prone to crying “persecution” such as when they are expected to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples.
According to Dictionary.com “Identity Politics” is “political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity.” Conservatives seem to see this as only applying to liberals who rally around minority identities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth, but the truth is most politics are based in large part on the beliefs one has based in their identity. The coal miner’s identity is based (at least to some extent) on their job and the values and norms of others with the same job. Rural Southerners have a group identity built on guns and the Rebel flag (among other things). Christians see Christianity not just as a set of beliefs, but part of their identities. The list goes on. For most LGBTQ people, our identities necessitate rallying against anti-gay policies and laws. People of color fight against racism. Many women fight for gender equality, because… guess what… it affects them. Many people have multiple identities and roles, so that’s why sometimes you see a gay Republican or a liberal Redneck (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTHsQd-vRXK1bp4vpifl6yA) .
Conservatives can be quick to label and shame, but so can we. I’ve been reading a lot of liberal media sites (especially since the election). While I’m in agreement with most of what is put forth on these sites, I have seen a disturbing tendency from some corners to quickly label folks as racist, misogynistic, or homophobic for holding differences of opinion and in some cases for being the wrong identity. I’ve seen white Liberal allies labeled as racist with little or any real justification. I’ve seen gay men and masculinity in general labeled as misogynistic and anti-woman for wanting to spend time among other men. Sure sometimes opinions and actions are built on hateful beliefs and unjustified biases. Other times you have people trying to live their lives, find the middle ground, or who mean well but just don’t have a full grasp of the issues. When we call out bigots for their racism, sexism, and homophobia, it’s often well justified. When we start throwing around these terms all willy-nilly at ourselves and our allies who have a subtle difference of opinion, we might be turning off well-meaning people from our cause. This also has an effect like crying “wolf.” If every minor thing triggers our name calling, it has less substance and impact when something major comes up that needs addressing.
Part of our challenge – especially in this new era of Trump – is to help folks understand (and agree with) our ideologies and not just our politics. We also need to be looking at the middle ground and not the extremes. Political correctness and Southern manners may be very similar in many ways, but getting folks past political rhetoric, ideology, and even simple misconceptions takes work and a real desire to find solutions that work for all and not just the extremes. Most people who are against political correctness don’t really want to go out calling Black people the “N-word” or gay people the “F-word”. Some do, but others have bought into the idea pushed by conservatives (and sometimes validated by liberals) that the “political correctness police” are out to punish them if they say the wrong thing, even a minor thing. They feel they have to walk on eggshells or fear being shamed. Many are afraid that if they call a Native American an “Indian” or an African-American “Black” they might be judged harshly even if they didn’t mean any harm. I will point out that many conservative Christians also get sensitive when you start talking about religion and they have their own brand of “political correctness” about what can and can’t be said about Christianity or their identities as Christians. The bottom line is that we need to be looking for shared values of civility and respect beyond our politics. If we do this, we might make greater progress than trying to push the politics themselves.
When seeking solutions we need to look for solutions that respect the rights of all, but also their fears, and also the cross-section of where everyone’s differing identities and ideologies meet. The Confederate flag is part of the identities of many Southern Americans who feel it represents their heritage. At the same time it is used as a symbol of many racists to promote their hateful cause. There’s probably no easy solution to this one, but perhaps there’s some kind of middle ground on this issue.
Transgender folks, like everyone else, need to use the restroom. They want to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity. They also risk being assaulted for using the “wrong” bathroom. Many straight folks truly fear sharing the bathroom with trans folks and also fear that bathroom laws will open the way for predatory behavior, not necessarily from trans folks, but from unscrupulous people using bathroom policies as a loophole. I honestly think the best solution (at least short term) is for public facilities to have individual bathrooms for folks with special needs. Many places already have individual bathrooms for disabled people; a number have “family” bathrooms which are basically unisex bathrooms anyway; so why not just extend their use to one more community.
Another issue that is often thrown about is why can minority groups celebrate their heritage or have special interest groups, but if someone from a majority group does so it’s shamed. A prime example often given is that folks can celebrate Black heritage or Gay pride, but not White heritage or Straight pride. While I think there is often more of a need among minority groups to celebrate their uniqueness in an often oppressive world, I don’t see why anyone should not be able to celebrate who they are as long as they are doing it in the spirit of history and heritage and not in the spirit of hate. Often the “White heritage” and “Straight pride” groups form from a spirit of hate and mocking rather than to share a positive history or identity to the world. Truth be told, there are a number of groups out there that do celebrate a mostly white or European heritage that don’t get shamed at all (at least not for celebrating their heritage). Examples include Irish Americans celebrating their Irish heritage; Italian Americans celebrating all things Italia; and there’s an annual Greek festival in my area that highlights Greek food, music, and dancing. These folks celebrate their unique foods and culture, not hating folks who aren’t white or who aren’t of their nationality.
It doesn’t always have to be all or nothing, sometimes the best solution is a compromise. Later on when folks are comfortable with the compromise, additional adjustments can be made if desired or necessary.
One last thing I’d like to talk about before wrapping up is how conservatives often take our language or make up code words and twist the meaning against us. I’ve already talked about how political correctness can be seen as either civility or oversensitivity. I’ve also talked about how most everyone’s politics are based around their identities. Conservatives have made these code words that they’ve twisted and injected with negativity. I’d like to suggest in this age of Trump that we start calling out their identity politics and their own versions of political correctness. We also shouldn’t fear not being “politically correct” when we call out racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the like in the Trump era. Just make sure it’s justified and make sure it counts!