A Race Apart
MRH offers a short-answer essay, in the comments, on “otherness” and the reasoning behind political correctness:
Rightly or wrongly (I think increasingly wrongly) the default category in American society is white, Christian, and male. Anyone who isn’t white, Christian, or male is to some degree the “other.”
It’s easy, but a little dicey, for someone in a position of relative privilege to tell someone in another category to subsume their identity. Here’s an imperfect analogy: if someone told you that you should stop thinking of yourself as a Christian-American and just think of yourself as American, you might be a little offended. After all, your religion is important to you, and anyway, you don’t think that being Christian is incompatible with just being “American.”
Of course, no one’s likely to say that to you, because Christian-American sounds redundant to us, because Christian is part of the default category.
It’s an old argument, and it’s never made sense to me: American means “white,” so calling a black man “American” would imply his race away, and because his race is important to him, we must apply an adjective so that he can be fully black and fully American as an “African American.” And somehow that will dispel racism and bring us all together.
Whenever folks on MRH’s side of the ideological divide begin summarizing, for me, how I think of myself and when I might be offended, I can’t help but despair a bit at the gulf between worldviews. As a matter of fact, rare are the times that I think of myself as a “Christian-American.” When I think of my nationality, history, and general culture, I think of myself as “American”; when I think of my religion, intellectual disposition, and subculture, I think of myself as “Christian”; when I think of my race, I actually consider myself a mutt, but in the broad category of “white.”
Political correctness requires that we always refer to Americans of a certain range of ancestry as “African American,” as a short-hand blend of racial, national, and cultural descriptions. It’s a very limiting, even dehumanizing thing to do, not the least because it allows a political cadre to dictate what an entire race must believe when it comes to national politics and cultural proclivities.
The underlying premise of political correctness is that knowledge of a person’s race tells you something significant about everything else about that person. The alternative — the correct approach — is to assess people based on all available information and to be prepared to adjust. That includes an allowance for a particular race (or gender or religious group or orientation or whatever) to define itself, but with the understanding that a majority vote, as it were, isn’t definitive for dissenting individuals.
Thus, if black Americans persist in acknowledging a distinctive subculture, it is entirely appropriate to expect its manifestation in one whom you are just meeting, but it is also necessary to reevaluate. Race is easily observed, and there appears to be some degree of a sense of brotherhood among blacks, so it isn’t racist to expect certain views and behavior in accordance with the family, as it were. In deliberately merging that racial identity with their national identity, political correctness makes the familial definition the default, and those who differ on political or cultural matters become the “other among others.”
Political Correctness, in other words, looks at a conservative black man and says, “not really black” — sorry, “not really African American.” Such an approach only reinforces racial notions of otherhood. If somebody else is black and I am white, then the differences between us that I can profess to know are limited, because we’re only talking color. He is free to reveal himself to me, and vice versa. If somebody else is African American and I am American, then we enter our acquaintance within the framework of the Other that we are supposed to lament.
Actually, what we are supposed to do is to take that framework and give minorities an advantage and a sunny presumption — providing a wedge for their political masters. As Shelby Steele writes:
… there is an inherent contradiction in all this. When whites — especially today’s younger generation — proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace race as their primary motivation. They think and act racially, not post-racially. The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer’s ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally.
“Displaying or documenting racial innocence” is a way of describing political correctness, and its practitioners make tools of themselves and perpetuate that which they believe themselves to be erasing.
I would repeat something that I’ve said previously, though: one positive result of an Obama presidency, apart from everything else, is his standing as a direct challenge to those who’ve sought to exclude “white” standards of respectability and erudition from the definition of the African American subculture. Should he fail to promote the right causes and push the right agendas, however, be prepared for race hucksters to change their tone and present him as an “Uncle Tom in Chief” who was packaged for white America.
Whether such a ploy will at last undermine their own claims to speak for the black community or will reposition Obama in the same category as Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice before him, we’ll have to wait and see. (I suspect he’ll play all sorts of political games to avoid the rift.) Whatever the case, there may be an opportunity, however, for cultural conservatives to promote their common principles with blacks once the Left’s racial manacles are broken.