In the early days of my being politicized, I spent time with people in a subculture which can be summed up with the title “anti-authoritarian punk.” A favorite activity of people in this group was to bash something they called “political correctness.” At almost every gathering I attended—without fail—hours would be spent snickering and bad-talking the notion of being politically correct, and ostracizing activists accused of subscribing to that notion.
As I understand it, the argument went that political correctness, or “P.C.,” was apparently a plot by some do-gooders to censor everyone else and prevent them from saying and doing what they want (for example using infamously common hate speech against women and people of color). The battle they claimed to be fighting was one of retaining the “freedom” to “shock” people, because, in the end, the ultimate goal is one of breaking social conventions rather than justice.
Later in my life, having been an activist and a radical for several years, I now see the whole subculture of “anti-authoritarian punk” as having been entirely entrenched in, and supportive of, the privileges that come with being a beneficiary of sadistic arrangements of power (be it white supremacy, patriarchy, or capitalist exploitation).
Historically, those in power have had to objectify others—made into “capital O” Others—before they could exploit them. When I think of the people I knew in this “anti-P.C.” camp, I am generally overcome with disdain and rage, because they are simply a new face doing the same objectification. Their effect on social justice movements is not benign, but a significant part of the problem. Oppression is effectively normalized by their brand of “freedom to” rhetoric, thus duping disenfranchised youth and others who stumble upon this sentiment to buy into the thrills of breaking boundaries instead of realizing their potential to make the world a better place and then plugging into projects and communities of righteousness.
If “P.C.” means I’m not okay with hate speech, if it means that I stand against behavior that is cruel and obviously inappropriate, then I’m fine being identified with it. But, if we want to speak honestly about the political element of reinforcing unequal dynamics, I’d much prefer the term "politically opposed”. I am politically opposed to actions and words that are oppressive, because I see it as a part of the continuum of struggle that has been the reality for many generations of people coming from traditions of feminism, anti-racism, and social justice activism.
The political element of these situations is what causes the impossibility of their harmlessness. It’s one thing to poke fun at your close friend in a way where you can both share a laugh. It’s quite a different matter for a person who is, for example, a white man, to verbally or physically assault another person who is, for example, a woman of color, despite the perpetrator claiming the guise of “freedom of expression.” The former scenario can be called “joking”, but the latter scenario can’t be called anything but oppression.
I certainly am politically opposed to oppression. Whether someone thinks I am correct or not to hold this position is of little concern to me.
Image credit: Shaun Slifer