Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In Praise of Political Correctness

Recently reinstated Don Imus got in trouble again for making a comment about Adam "Pacman" Jones of the Dallas Cowboys getting arrested multiple times because he was "black." I'm not sure whether Imus meant that Jones was arrested so many times because cops target black men or that Jones was arrested so often because black guys are such criminals.

But I don't care either. Imust should have been booted out of the talk radio permanently after his "nappy headed hos" comment about the Rutgers Women's basketball team and a lot of other racist nonsense.

But Jimi Izrael of The Root, an African-American blog, begs to differ and argues that "the race police" should lay off Don Imus.
Imus is in the business of talk radio, and his business is caustic wit and irreverence. But if Imus can't order a cup of coffee—black—without a special dispensation, without the need of some kind of interpreter or co-signer, then soon he'll be out of business, along with a lot of other folks. Black folks. Because when you start trying to censor other people, you're next.

But that gets it exactly wrong. The American army of race police has had a huge role in making it easier for black people to speak out and be heard. One of the effects of stereotyping is that it tends to both keep black people from talking and guarantee that anything they say won't be heard. It's been documented hundreds if not thousands of times that stereotypes of African-Americans as lazy, criminal, unintelligent, angry, and outside the magic circle of beauty are extremely painful and debilitating. In the classic The Alchemy of Race and Rights, Patricia Williams posed racial stereotyping as literally driving her crazy.

If that weren't bad enough, racial stereotyping makes it more difficult for even well-intentioned whites to get free of white supremacy. With the constant circulation of racial jokes and people like Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh on the air, whites always have access to racial put-downs, innuendos, and sneers for every occasion. And it's not only all very clever, it also has a powerful legitimacy because famous and famously cool people are talking that way.

This brings us back to the contribution of political correctness. Because it's the only effective counter-weight to racial stereotyping in American society, the purveyors of "political correctness" have performed invaluable service in making the United States a less racist society. Writers like bell hooks, activists like Al Sharpton, professors, lawyers, and thousands of everyday people do their bit to advance the cause of racial justice by refusing to tolerate racial stereotyping, calling people out who make derogatory comments or tell derogatory jokes, and pushing for remove the worst purveyors of the stereotyping genre--people like Don Imus--from their lucative careers.

Hardly anybody likes politically correct people--I know I don't--but we're all much better off because of them. Because political correctness provides a constant reminder that racial stereotyping is morally wrong, inappropriate, and rude, it helps people--especially white people--to look at African-Americans and their abilities and accomplishments in new ways and hear what African-Americans have to say. Political correctness helped create a cultural space for Oprah Winfrey to become an entertainment dynamo, Michael Jordan to become a hero for everyone, and Barack Obama to become the leading presidential candidate. Political correctness has enhanced free speech because it has helped create conditions under which African-Americans can speak more freely.

In the final analysis, politically correct people deserve much more credit than they get--certainly more than a creep like Don Imus.

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