Posted in my weekly column “Through Our Eyes” found here.
College campuses are great places for innovative thought. They can also be like old tattered sponges that pick up whatever theory is deemed “progressive” at the time. As a political science major, the big one for us was the checking of privileges. I remember my first week of my government and politics introduction class. The professor came in and began a long rant about systematic advantages many of us had as white heterosexual males. He yelled, “Check your privilege!”
I remember thinking in that moment “Well I didn’t get to pick my parents, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation before I was born and I also didn’t pick to which country I was born. I surely didn’t choose the systems in place in that country. So why are you yelling at me?”
He went on to say “You have to be aware of it!” To which I thought, “This guy doesn’t even know my name. I literally have to write my name in sharpie on a paper name tag. So how does he know how aware or unaware I am?”
And therein lies the problem. The assumption of privilege is that everyone who falls into the privileged group is an active participant in maintaining privilege and ensuring no one else enjoys similar privileges.
The modern movement of political correctness thrives off of victimization and guilt. People with power – politicians, ideologues, those with agendas of various shapes and sizes tell some people they are victims and others that they are guilty. They push identity politics and a type of thought crime enforcement straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.
I have friends of all different backgrounds and when we hangout I don’t analyze my privilege in relation to them. We go get tacos, watch the game and have some laughs. I don’t sit at lunch and feel guilty for my white heterosexual privilege, nor do I try to identify the structures of oppression that affect them. We are equals. Anything else would be superficial and make for awkward friendships. People want to be treated with kindness and respect. I know of few people of any background who consciously think about the institutional inequalities of society when they are carrying on their daily routines.
Most people just want to work hard, provide for their families and enjoy life. Indoctrinating an idea of inherited victimization to one set of groups while indoctrinating guilt into another set about factors they have no control over is a losing game. The message we should be sending is one of self-empowerment. Self-empowerment happens within us and is durable regardless of outside conditions. Political correctness and the war on privilege is just a new tactic of division and control, as it empowers no one.
Freedom and equality are never obtained through censorship and the putting down of others. Those are competing ideas. Freedom and Equality are obtained through rigorous work and struggle. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Amelia Earhart, and all who have followed have proved that. The people who are creating change don’t do it by playing the victim. They do it by being great at whatever they do, not by censoring people or legislating behavior. Their self-empowerment breaks barriers and creates real change, which in turn empowers others.
I have grown up with a powerful movement of political correctness. I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve seen lose their jobs for off the cuff, coarse comments that apparently justify no hope for redemption. These people seem to just disappear into the ether. Their legacies forever tarnished, their successes disregarded.
As a young male this has a chilling affect on my relationships. Anything can be deemed offensive or inappropriate; making it difficult to express myself for fear of being attacked for whatever innocent missteps I may make.
There are very real structures of oppression in this country. The drug war and the segregation of American cities are two off the top of my head. Political correctness and soapbox speeches about privilege aren’t going to solve real issues like those.