Community Activists Network
One of the dilemmas in life is how to challenge bigotry without reinforcing it (by pushing people away from us and our viewpoint) .
And it’s made even more difficult in an environment where PC is a pariah.
Given PC is a handy button which seems to release jeers every time bigots press it, we’re clearly in a difficult environment when we try to influence people towards social justice and equalities.
Wikipedia’s definition of of PC suggests it gained strength because our challenges overdid it: “Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct; both forms commonly abbreviated to PC) is a term which denotes language, ideas, policies, and behaviour seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts, and, as purported by the term, doing so to an excessive extent.” (my italics)
In fact, Wikipedia outlines how the phrase was actually revived by the New Left in the 70’s to guard against the tendency to overdo it: “The New Left later re-appropriated the term political correctness as satirical self-criticism; per Debra Shultz: "Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the New Left, feminists, and progressives . . . used their term politically correct ironically, as a guard against their own orthodoxy in social change efforts".
So far so good, but in the 90s the New Right seized it as a stick to beat progressive education in universities and schools, as part of their intentional rolling- back of the modern world, seemingly towards the dubious comforting visions found in parts of the Old Testament.
But it caught on beyond the right wing ideologues as PC became the popular buzzword to deflate any attempts to challenge oppressive language or behaviour: and ridicule is powerful stuff. Try reading ‘The Modern Parents’ in Viz , lampooning a stereotype of self-deluding excess.
As the New Left realised in 70s, it works as a stereotype because sometimes we are crass and pompous and self-righteous like that – I remember an article in The Observer from someone who happily joined a Woodcraft Folk event and came away reeling from encounters with “some of the most judgmental people on this planet”. Did they forget to hide their Cola can?
This negative reaction against attempts to promote social justice and equality are partly caused by the huge focus we place on language – it can come across as a middle class hobby-horse, rooted in bookishness. If it appears elitist and pretentious, it is further rejected because it feels threatening: challenges can humiliate anyone who isn’t privileged with this access to alternative information. That’s how the scoffers triumph – they paint the image of an Interfering Elitist to drown any thinking about the real bedrocks of our society – racism, patriarchy, capitalism.
How to tackle this ? Can we gird ourselves with a bit of anger first ? PC as a concept was grabbed by the New Right as a way to silence any view deemed unconservative; it’s a stranglehold on us all, reinforcing ideas which promote the status quo or even reversion to the past which serves the interests of WASP wealthy males ( a women’s place in the home, children seen and not heard, gay people in the closet, etc etc – all pushed onto the back-foot and on the receiving end) .
So let’s find ways to raise the issues without confirming the stereotype. Our own jokes about the New Right can help to convey our disgust but laced with humour (Bill Hicks anyone? Yes, dodgy on a number of liberal fronts but he took on the many of the New Right’s gods in their faces. Jo Brand ?). Because the bigots are ridiculous and we have to laugh.
And I’ve found that mocking of bigotry can also be helped along by stories which express how the status quo is wrecking life for everyone and how bigotry helps this unequal world to promote itself as if it's natural, setting us up by dividing and ruling. And that could be a strong card; people understand Divide and Rule - it's another popular notion which we can use to counter-act jibes of PC. I’d love to hear everyone’s ideas on how we can be effective in challenging bigotry – let’s share what works and boldly go...
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