How Being A Huge Prick Helped Me Understand Political Correctness
I have no desire to belabor the NFL protests. Others have articulated all there is to say about it, and with the devastation in Puerto Rico and the neighborhood that was once our home being slowly absorbed by fire, arguing over a knee gesture seems petty. Besides, it’s not the first cultural battle, but it might as well be the last. The cultural progress that comes from a political correctness movement is like an ocean current nibbling at the coast. There’s a wave, it recedes, then returns to erode a little bit more off the status quo.
People act as though political correctness and social justice were created in a vacuum. And often times the actions of opportunistic charlatans paint political correctness as something fashionable, as though people have adapted to being outraged for the sake of appearances. While that may be true at times, it’s important to remember that nothing happens in vacuums on the matter of race, gender, marginalization, and most importantly, equality. If we define our current climate as “Politically Correct” and delineate it by protests, outrage, and online bickering with relatives, then we’re obligated to define what came before that lead to this current climate.
I used to write under a pen name back in 2003. I had a lot of followers. I had a large mailing list. I would draft DIY chapbooks and I would sell my work in record shops and book stores across Southern California, some in New York, Vancouver, and even London. I sold quite a few of those booklets. I made a lot of friends and cut a few inroads with people in the industry.
“I Could’ve Fucked A Clown” was the name of the first short story in my first chapbook. It ended with a story called “I Fucked Their Asses”. And it only got worse from there. The chapbooks, as well as my online blog, were gratuitously misogynistic, racist, and were drenched in every awful thing I could possibly think of to put to paper. It was shock value, and a lot of smokescreen to try and establish this narrative of myself as some dreadful cultural journeyman that was half alpha-male and half self-loathing loser. Some were offended. I shrugged them off. What’s so horrible about a suburban white boy who lives with his parents using racial slurs and misogyny to sell print?
If I were to pass those books out today I would probably get my ass kicked (rightly so). But at that time what I was putting to paper was in line with the sensibilities of the early 2000s. Eminem was rapping about rape and murdering his wife. Limp Bizkit released tracks about sexual assault and “eating you alive”. Family Guy and South Park had episodes in which disabled characters were the butt of endless jokes, and while nobody said “faggot” in television or film you could get away with any number of gay jokes and nobody would bat an eye if transgender characters were portrayed as twisted freaks. There was outrage to be sure, but you had to go Laugh Factory berserk for anyone to muster it.
Again, none of this happened in a vacuum, and if you think that those on the receiving end weren’t paying attention, weren’t offended, weren’t angry, and weren’t baffled at how little consideration their feelings were given then you haven’t been paying attention. Those who spent the 2000-aughts having even the tiniest of tired racist bullshit like mine fall onto their lap to provide insult would regard that era as having as much definition in ‘laissez faire’ hate speech as one might consider this new era belonging to stringent political correctness. Every instance of seeing somebody like them targeted as a joke, a prop, or a less-than without any positive regard was probably as grating to them then as hearing them complain about it is to you now. The difference is that you know better than to treat people like shit. I knew better but at the time I didn’t care. I didn’t think about it as having a negative impact. I never considered it.
I’ll admit, I probably wouldn’t care as much about these issues if our family had been different. Having a child with disabilities has forced my perspective. It’s not by any means a noble path to discovery, it’s definitely not a salvation, nor does it wash away any horrible things I may have said (both online and in print), but it is the destination I’ve found myself in and I would rather explore that different perspective, that marginalized perspective, than try to cling to a belief structure that would have me look the other way when a child like my son is used as a gag in some stupid comedy bit, or regarded as a scourge every time there’s a vaccine debate. I’ve been guided by self-interest but now propelled by curiosity and discovery.
One of the more frustrating things I find about political correctness is people’s reflexive attitude that they’re being oppressed or controlled. Yeah, the tone of people’s outrage can be very shitty when they’re directing it at something you’ve said. They’re angry. They feel like nobody is listening. They feel like you’re not listening. I’ve been on the receiving end of it during many a Black Lives Matter discussion or a transgender thread, despite having good intentions. But those aren’t instances in which you become liberated by believing that you’re right and the people actually living the issue are wrong, they’re opportunities to listen and understand why a group of people’s feelings are hurt by the way their situation is regarded, mis-communicated, and misinterpreted by people who aren’t them.
And to say “What about the other perspective? What if I’m offended at how they’re offended?” is missing the point of equality. Example: Black issues belong to everyone, and should be regarded as such. That’s part of being a society. But the white perspective on black equality is going to be inherently conflicted by interest, to say nothing of its lack of expertise. A group that doesn’t own their voice isn’t going to be empowered to lead a movement to fix those issues, and a group that doesn’t listen isn’t going to learn enough to be equipped to provide necessary support.
Do yourself this favor. Think of the shittiest thing that’s ever happened to you. An instance that left you wounded. Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you went bankrupt. Maybe a friend killed themselves or a loved one died of cancer. Now imagine somebody making a joke out of it, mocking it, and portraying it as a comedy. Not just on the street but on television and in film. Constantly. Imagine a group of people who’ve never experienced it telling you what it means and how you should feel and react. And now imagine an even bigger group telling you that you don’t have the right to be offended, that you’re making a big deal out of it, and that you’re making their lives difficult by asking them to be considerate. Kinda shitty, isn’t it?
There’s an old writing adage that states if 3 people tell you you’re drunk, you’re drunk. The meaning is that a group is smarter than an individual when it comes to providing feedback. If a massive segment of people tell you that you’re offending them, it’s probably a good bet that you’re being offensive.
I don’t know what 2017 means, but I know what it can mean if people start stepping outside their comfort zone and listening to these groups on the margins of society. And by no means should it be limited by those which receive the most media attention from the Left or Right. Veteran’s rights, disability rights, elder care, the homeless, the unemployed… the list is long and at times becomes entangled and complicated. A veteran or group of veterans offended by football players kneeling for the national anthem has a right as a veteran’s issue to take offense and have their perspective explored as it likely cuts to the root cause of how they’re mistreated as a marginalized group. At the same time, a dude sitting at home in his Eagles jersey eating Pringles off his crotch while the anthem plays, offended because millionaire black athletes “should be more grateful and stand up” probably doesn’t require a deep dive on his feelings.
Fuck. I brought up the NFL after all.