Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Paranoia of Political Correctness

Most people (e.g. me) whose parents weren't active in the KKK grew up thinking, rather naively, that racism is the belief that one's own race is superior and other races are inferior. By contemporary standards, this is not exactly true--the inner logic of political correctness is more convoluted than that. For example, a positive opinion of another group expressed for the wrong reasons is still racist (e.g. "orientalism," "white guilt"), while a sweepingly negative statement denigrating all members of a particular group is not necessarily racist: if the target group has more members and/or a higher average socioeconomic status than that of the person uttering the statement, it's "reverse racist." It can also be tricky to tell "ironic" racism from the real thing, especially in our present cultural climate, wherein edginess is valued over intelligence, and low quality satire often reinforces the very ideas it's intended to critique.

I imagine that people who are members of minority groups (most of whom actually belong to majority groups, in an extra-American context) feel just as frustrated, if not more so. They could probably describe the same sensation of walking on eggshells, the same feeling slightly guilty awkwardness whenever the issue of "race" comes up, and the additional fear that just maybe a group of 5 resentful crackers are going to be waiting in the alley with sticks in their hands and pillowcases over their heads.

Maybe the way we're all looking at the issue of "race" right now seldom makes anyone feel happy or secure. Maybe identity politics isn't a zero sum power game, and "race" (whatever that actually means--minor statistical variation in a single actively communicating global gene pool, maybe?) is less of a big deal than people seem to think. Perhaps racism isn't necessarily a hideous social cancer or a deeply entrenched, self-perpetuating "regime of power and knowledge" but rather a lazy and complacent in-group superstition that most people would happily give up upon learning that it's intelligent and profitable to do so. I suspect our current efforts to combat racism usually only make it worse, and the sooner we figure that out, the better off we'll all be.

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