Before you read this article I want to make sure you have the proper trigger warnings. I will be touching on some delicate issues and if you are a minority of any kind, you might want to find a safe space in other parts of the C2C Journal. Some people find the use of the term “trigger warning” itself to be offensive, and so you can alternatively consider this to be an “activation warning” or a “stress warning.” There might also be some micro-aggressions peppered throughout my article, and I apologize, in advance, for that.
In the 1990s, I was working in England for the American multinational, Intel Corporation, and my Scottish boss, John Breslin, would come back from trips to head office shaking his head at the latest manifestations of political correctness. There were never-ending seminars on sexual harassment which even included guidance on what jokes were safe to tell at work, and when/how you could touch a fellow employee. He would laugh and comment on how lucky we all were to work in the U.K., where we were immune to the craziness. It didn’t last and soon we had Americans flying over to teach the Brits how to properly behave.
Sometimes political correctness would seem to recede, only to re-emerge in a new format. After 9/11, it morphed into irrational concerns about Islamophobia and George Bush derangement syndrome. Recently, we’ve entered a new stage – political correctness 2.0 – and now we have to talk about white privilege, cisgender privilege (living the gender you were born with), male privilege, and the notion that “privilege” should be “checked at the door.”
Here is just a taste of some of the stories making the rounds:
– As reported by Heather MacDonald in City Journal last year, UCLA professor Val Rust was teaching a graduate course in dissertation preparation. In one proposal he corrected the capitalization of the word indigenous to lowercase. This supposedly showed disrespect for a student’s politics. In November 2013, five of his students of colour, accompanied by other students and reporters, marched into the class and surrounded Rust and read a “Day of Action Statement.” Administration then announced that three other professors would help teach his course, one of whom was a proponent of critical race theory. At a town hall to discuss the matter Rust approached a student “who had berated him for not seeking forgiveness,” and “reached out to touch him.” The student promptly filed criminal charges of battery. Rust was then given a choice – if he agreed to stay off the campus for the remainder of the school year, the University would not pursue disciplinary charges.
– Two white students were barred from an on-campus meeting at Ryerson because they were not “racialized.” The meeting was hosted by the Racialized Students Collective, and two students were asked, upon entry, if either of them had been marginalized or racialized. When they said no, they were asked to leave. Explained the head of the Collective, Rajean Hoilett: “Speaking as a racialized student, as a black student, the conversation looks very different for folks that are looking to talk about racism when they’re talking about racism amongst other folks that also experience racism.”
– Stevenson College, part of the University of California at Santa Cruz, recently held an intergalactic night featuring robots and space ships with aliens. As part of the evening, they served a buffet of Mexican food. Complaints were filed that the event was racist because of the association between Mexicans and illegal aliens. The College apologized and decided to add “cultural competence training” for its staff, and implemented “measures for future program planning that will ensure college programs are culturally sensitive and inclusive.”
– In January 2015, McGill University had Rad Sex Week which included a series of “talks, workshops, discussion and performances on the topics of gender, sexuality, sexual health and less conventional sexual practices.” One seminar was called “Desires: A QT*POC [Queer Transgendered People of Colour] Exploration.” The event description said “white folks need not attend.” The McGill Daily agreed with the ban and wrote: “Grounded in decolonization principles, [the seminar] seeks to analyze and deconstruct experiences and perspectives that arise specifically from the intersection of race and queerness. In addition to the predominant place taken up by whiteness and heteronormativity in public discourse, queer POC often face race-based marginalization even in queer spaces.”
– The People’s Social Forum was held in Ottawa in August of 2014, featuring over 3,000 participants, 500 seminars, a film festival, concerts, a protest march, and several assemblies. It was sponsored by all the major unions in Canada as well as rabble.ca. A subsequent article by Steffanie Pinch, Rabble’s activist toolkit coordinator, was upset by “the overwhelming whiteness of the forum.” She noted that “during the report-backs from the Assemblies, representatives from the People of Colour’s caucus called out the whiteness of the forum, beginning their report with ‘dear white people….’ They stated that their signs for specific people of colour-only spaces were repeatedly removed and that the vast majority of workshops and presenters did not reflect an anti-racist framework that put people of colour at the centre.”
– Here’s an April 2015 tweet from Murtaza Hussain, a fellow journalist at The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald: “Newest form of white privilege: converting to Islam, committing heinous acts, dying, letting all the brown/black people take the heat for it.”
– There is an annual conference on White Privilege in Louisville Kentucky. Some of the partners include the Sierra Club, the Chicago Theological Seminary, the ACLU and the University of Louisville. It is extremely inclusive: “WPC is a conference designed to examine issues of privilege beyond skin color. WPC is open to everyone and invites diverse perspectives to provide a comprehensive look at issues of privilege including: race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc. — the ways we all experience some form of privilege, and how we’re all affected by that privilege.” One of the films shown at the event this year was “The Whiteness Project” which was “launched in partnership with PBS as an ongoing digital project that examines white privilege. The Project is compiling interviews with 1,000 white Americans from all walks of life on their views on race and how they experience their whiteness.”
– A theater group at Mount Holyoke College will no longer put on the Vagina Monologues, partly because it excludes women without vaginas.
– This April, the White House finally dedicated a gender-neutral bathroom. Valerie Jarett, Obama’s key political advisor, wrote that it was designed “to ensure that everyone who enters this building feels safe and fully respected.” (This was around the same time the White House was negotiating a deal with Iran allowing its nuclear program to proceed.)
Now, despite all this incredible silliness, here is some good news: Some people on the left are noticing (such as Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine) and writing critically about this, and in some delightful instances, the stupidity is now feeding on itself.
– In November 2014, Omar Mahmoud, a student at the University of Michigan, wrote a satirical piece making fun of political correctness in The Michigan Review. He then received word from the other campus newspaper, the Michigan Daily, which he also wrote for, that he had created a “hostile environment” among the editorial staff and that someone had felt threatened. He was asked to write a letter of apology or leave the paper and when he refused, he was fired. Four students then went to his apartment, splattered eggs, and left messages like “shut the f–k up” on his door.
– John McWhorter, a black Professor at Columbia University notes that “it’s a safe bet that most black people are more interested in there being adequate public transportation from their neighborhoods to where they need to work than that white people attend another encounter group session where they learn how lucky they are to have cars. It’s a safe bet that most black people are more interested in whether their kids learn anything at their school than whether white people are reminded that their kids probably go to a better school.”
– Peter Tatchell, a gay rights advocate in the U.K., and one of my heroes – he’s been beaten up several times in Russia and once tried to personally arrest Robert Mugabe – signed a letter in The Observer last February, with 129 other intellectuals, calling for more free speech in universities. It was a response to student unions’ “no-platforming” strategy to stop unpopular views, including banning feminists whom they believed were “whorephobic” or “transphobic.” Tatchell was then bombarded with 5,000 tweets, many of which were insulting and threatening.
– Laureen Harper wrote a letter of support in April of 2015 for the Day of Pink – a day to wear pink to show your opposition to bullying. Gay activists went ballistic and encouraged people to boycott the event because of Mrs. Harper’s husband, who is supposedly homophobic. Their campaign went nowhere and was roundly condemned in the press.
So, it’s nice to see some opposition to politically correct extremism coming from the left. If enough people stand up, this will all recede. Not without a fight, of course, but there is a glimmer of hope.
I should add that the left doesn’t have a monopoly over political correctness; sometimes it is on the right. Conservative curmudgeon Jeremy Clarkson, host of the popular TV show Top Gear, was sacked by the BBC after beating up his producer because there wasn’t a hot dinner waiting for him at a hotel. Various defenders in the right-wing press claimed Clarkson was fired because he was conservative, including on in the Daily Mail, which sniped that it was because he was “too white, too male, and too damned British for the BBC.”
British journalist Nick Cohen notes that, “the infantilising left is matched by the infantilising right. No one on either side of the culture wars is responsible for their actions. They are the victims of a conspiracy by enemies with hidden agendas.”
Though honourable mention goes to Canada’s own Rex Murphy for a recent courageous defence of “white privilege” in the National Post, the best rejoinder to all this nonsense came from Tal Fortgang, a Jewish student at Princeton University who wrote an essay in April of 2014 called “Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege.”
He wrote: “Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege….It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education – from mathematics to morality – cannot be overstated. It’s not a matter of white or black, male or female, or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates ‘privilege.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Thank you Mr. Fortgang.
Fred Litwin is the Founder and President of the Free Thinking Film Society which is dedicated to showing films on freedom, liberty and democracy. This article was adapted from a presentation he gave at the 2015 Civitas conference in Calgary.