Find A Job   Find A Home   Find A Car   Classifieds

Write a Letter
CT News
Mountain Travel Guide
Real Estate
Newcomers Guide
Contact Us

Using ‘political correctness’ label as a battering ram
By Monroe Gilmour

Posted: Apr 22

Guest columnist Bob Youngerman may have missed the boat on the term "political correctness," but his commentary, "Political correctness another way of saying anything goes" (AC-T 4/6/01), does, perhaps inadvertently, reveal what using that term actually means.

Mr. Youngerman expresses his frustration at how "political correctness" leads society to do things it otherwise would not and should not do. For example, he notes that the media would not give such "substantial coverage" to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday were it not for "political correctness" or, its inverse, the fear of being "politically incorrect." He then contrasts that extensive coverage with the paucity of coverage for President’s Day which really should be covered.

Hmmm? Twelve hundred people, Black and White, gather for breakfast in Asheville to commemorate Dr. King’s vision of harmony and justice for our nation, then two days later nearly two thousand people come together for a unity peace walk in Dr. King’s honor. These events get "too much" news coverage yet the near- total lack of public expression for President’s Day deserves more?

Mr. Youngerman concludes that those adhering to a philosophy of "political correctness" "reject long-held honored traditions in favor of the establishment of a new system of beliefs that often promotes an anything goes code of conduct and a collective guilt for the plight of society’s perennial victims..."

The implication is that "political correctness" causes society to take actions it otherwise would not take to fulfill someone’s perceived "political" purpose rather than useful community goals. Society’s actions, in this view, are often not really ‘correct,’ but only ‘correct’ for political reasons that push forward an irrelevant, even harmful agenda catering to individuals or minority groups who do not value the majority’s established traditions.

Actually, I have never heard the term "political correctness" used by those initiating an action as a defense or rationale for that action. But I have heard the term used as a one-size-fits-all battering ram aimed at diminishing concerns expressed by those who have, historically, been held down by society. Women who demand inclusive language instead of patriarchal language. Black citizens who demand equal access to jobs. American Indians demanding respect for their religious imagery. Disabled citizens demanding access to education and, yea, even a public toilet.

My experience is that the charge of "political correctness" or its inverse, "political incorrectness" is used by people with power to dismiss or denigrate the legitimate concerns of people without power. Making the "political correctness" charge is, in large part, a way to avoid acknowledging the pain we may be causing because we do not want to deal with having to change our ways to alleviate that pain. In short, using the term is a convenient mask geared toward protecting White or other majority-privilege from challenge by new ideas or demands for fairness. We have no better example locally of this phenomenon than the four-year controversy over American Indian sport mascots at Erwin High School. American Indian concerns over the trivialization of their religious imagery, the stereotyping of Indians as violent, the perpetuating of a century-old Hollywood image of Indians, all this is written off as "political correctness run amuck." One official even, ironically, told local Indian families they should "get a life" and "go back where they came from."

Yet, the State Superintendent called on the Buncombe County Board of Education to make the change so our schools will be more welcoming for American Indians, whose drop-out rate is the highest of any minority group in the state. Former governor James B. Hunt wrote that such stereotyping has a negative impact "on the integrity of our public education system." And numerous Indian educational, psychological, and tribal organizations called on the Board to change.

How did we come to have two such disparate views of what is going on? For many observers, Ronald Reagan began the process of making many Americans comfortable with their prejudices. Rush Limbaugh and similar talk show hosts pushed it further with an in-your-face, antagonistic approach to any minority demands for respect. Using the term "political correctness" became the generic weapon of choice for dismissing a demand without having to consider seriously the substance of that concern.

Buncombe School Board members, themselves, have not yet dealt with the educational or curriculum substance of their decision to continue using the Indian mascot. Instead, through their actions and inactions, they affirm the many charges of "political correctness" made by some Erwin alumni and observers. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ April 13 statement calling for schools across the country to eliminate Indian sport mascots drops a real challenge on the Board’s plate. Will the Board deal with the substance of the Commission’s findings or simply dismiss this call, too, as more "political correctness"?

One American Indian observer told me that he has come to see the "PC" in "political correctness" as something different. For him, "PC" stands for "personal courtesy."

Instead of fearing changing traditions, as expressed in Mr. Youngerman’s commentary, we should, out of simple personal courtesy, be listening to the voices of those who have "traditionally" been ignored.

Former slave and famous nineteenth century abolitionist, Frederick Douglass wrote, "Find out just what people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them."

The new reality to which Mr. Youngerman appears to object is actually part of the historical river of justice which, over time, and, not without occasional set-backs, flows toward creating a more just society. Throwing up the charge of "political correctness" at those seeking to avoid "submitting to an injustice" may be today’s means of trying to dam up that river.

But history shows that such opposition will over time be swept aside. People in the midst of today’s justice work need be aware of, but not deterred by, such transient remonstrations.

Gilmour is coordinator of Western North Carolina Citizens For An End To Institu-tional Bigotry and may be reached at 828-669-6677 or by mail at WNCCEIB, PO Box 18640, Asheville, NC 28814. He may be reached by e-mail at

On the Net:


Back to Indian Mascot Index Page
printable version of this article    email this article to a friend