Reclaiming Political Correctness
Our students have, for many years, complained that our curriculum is too Eurocentric, too Western, that our White students (by their own admission) are not prepared to deal with racial and ethnic difference in the world “out there.” So the faculty has advanced a proposal for additional graduation requirements to address this. Big deal, right? Every college in the country has requirements for diversity or multiethnicity in the curriculum. The '90's were the decade of multiculturalism, globalism and diversity, and we’re all on board now.
Political Correctness (PC) looms over every discussion we have like a cloud. Red flag words such as "otherness" or "marginality" set various members of the community off like a rocket on the Fourth of July. But it doesn't even take such "extreme" jargon to get people going. Words like "power" and "oppression" do the job just as well. Calling something or someone "politically correct" is a conversation stopper, a rhetorical trump card that cuts off any possible discussion. After all, what could be worse that political correctness?
I think I can claim to have come of age, intellectually speaking, at Ground Zero of Political Correctness. In 1987, I began my freshman year at
Of course, as with any war, there were casualties. White heterosexual males had little to contribute to the conversation, but we knew where we stood. We could participate in rituals of self-flagellation, but little beyond that. Institutions of Western society implicated in the past oppression of "Others" were beyond redemption, in most cases. Foremost among them, the Christian Church.
Christianity (along with heteronormativity, patriarchy, Free Market Capitalism, and Republicanism) was an irredemable other, beyond the pale for the new, sensitive Politically Correct humyn.
I also recall when the term "PC" went from normative, proper admonition to fall in line, to an unqualified put-down. Time magazine picked up a story in 1990, highlighting the (many) abuses of politically correct speech maintenance on college campuses. Thankfully,
It is no wonder to me that among my colleagues there are many who can't stomach words like "power" being used in any context other than "electrical," and find the notion of Political Correctness to be anathema to all things Christian, Godly, and Holy. The problem comes when we are left without a way to talk about oppression, power, domination and exclusion without setting off the PC radar. In the
Political Correctness, for all its crazy abuses, was born out of a recognition that some people have suffered because the ways others talked about them, made choices about who they were or were supposed to be, and kept them out of important areas of social life in material and symbolic ways. Women have been diminished by the term girl, just as to call a Black man a "boy" clearly communicates racial hierarchies. The term "Oriental," as opposed to Asian, carry a clear point of reference (Oriental means East. East of What?) These are real concerns about real people. If Christians want to be concerned about real people and the suffering they (and we) experience, where can we find the language that hasn't been poisoned by Political Correctness?
The answer, of course, is Scripture. The concerns of the Politically Correct - power, domination, exclusion, oppression - are not new. Jesus spoke of these very concerns with almost constant regularity. He spoke of Power and Oppression, but he did not call for Tolerance and the Exercise of Agency, he called for Justice, and for the Powerful to work on behalf of the Powerless. The Old Testament is rife with language for us to speak of the Stranger (i.e., the "Other"), the Alien (Undocumented Worker), and the oppressed (the Economically Margianlized.) But this language only becomes relevant to our faith as we take it up again, and actually use it.
The specter of Political Correctness has kept some of the favorite topics of the Left away from the Christian community. Race, economic oppression and social power have been shunned as theological or ecclesiological categories, left entirely to "the world." Christians have very little voice in the questions of Diversity (to use the language of our school) because they won't go near the real issues anymore.
We need not, and should not, become thought police by bringing a new language to bear on the questions of justice, race, oppression, gender and so forth. But we must reclaim the territory taken from us. Those on the Right should not be afraid; these are not issues of the Left. These are issues of the Lord.