Following up on yesterday’s post where I criticized Chris Muir for his use of black face to depict Hillary Clinton’s craven pandering to blacks by affecting the cadence and idioms of black language when speaking before an African American audience, I just want to thank Mr. Muir for his comments directed toward me on CQ Radio yesterday. (The relevant portion starts at about 9:50 into the podcast.)
It really wasn’t necessary.
It wasn’t necessary to point out that I’m soused with political correctness for criticizing his use of a symbol that I took great pains to give some historical background on – the use of black face in minstrel shows and how those entertainments shaped white attitudes and ideas toward black culture. Specifically the idea that context sometimes doesn’t matter when using symbols that are particularly hateful and hurtful.
Mr. Muir dismisses this argument out of hand by saying that “thinking people” are smarter than that and that context always trumps being sensitive to how symbols impact others. His statement that “symbols only have the power you give them,” could also apply to specific words like “nigger” (and, one would assume “kike” and “spic.”) He quotes from my piece at Heading Right to illustrate his point:
This is not political correctness per se, although there will be some racialists who would use Mr. Muirâ€™s depiction to advance their own political agenda. Being sensitive to the real feelings of others is always the right thing to do regardless of intent or context.
Note to Chris: “Racialists” is indeed a word. See here and here and here. In another context, it refers to those who use race as a platform to attain a supposed moral superiority, usually in order to shut off debate on issues of political correctness or public policy. I don’t think Jeff Goldstein was the first to use it in that context, but his blog was the first place I saw it used thusly.
Muir takes my quote and says that “it is the very definition of political correctness.” He accuses me of using a “fast, cheap, and easy way to feel superior by assuming that those who are offended are weak and can’t make up their own minds.”
First of all, Muir assumes that the only people offended by black face are blacks. I challenge anyone of any color to watch the film I mentioned in my piece, Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby singing “Abraham” in black face with his black cook and her son joining in without becoming embarrassed. It is offensive in the extreme as are the 97 other films listed here that use black face in various contexts.
I guess I’m just weak and can’t make up my own mind about these things. Too much listening to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, I guess.
Muir’s first amendment arguments are spot on and I would never advocate banning the use of words or symbols in any way whatsoever. But I will continue to make the argument that yes indeed, there are some symbols and words that are just too offensive, too drenched with a history of repression and violence that the use of them in any context and regardless of intent is just plain wrong.
I took a similar tack with my arguments against the use of the Confederate Battle Flag:
The history of the Battle of Gettysburg says that the Union won. But the heritage of the battle belongs to the south.
Perhaps not so much today as the cloying grip of mass media has blurred the sectionalism so much responsible for that long ago conflict. But itâ€™s also true that many southerners alive today are just one or two degrees of separation from that time in their history. After all, the last Civil War soldier lived until 1954. Many a southern grandfather can tell stories of long ago Fourth of Julyâ€™s with some of those same boys that trudged up the ridge at Gettysburg, grown old and bent but still proud, marching in parades behind that most distinctive of American symbols.
Distinctive and yes, hurtful. For many Americans, the Confederate Battle Flag represents a hateful system that held human beings as chattel slaves. For them, there is no heritage only history; a shameful chronicle of rape, of whippings, of oppression that colors our politics and culture down to this very day.
My admiration for the Southern soldier and the martial legacy of the Civil War that is so much a part of Southern history nevertheless must take a backseat to the very real pain caused by that “most distinctive of American symbols.” I sincerely hope that one day, we can reach a point in our national life where the Battle Flag can once again be flown, proudly bringing to mind the courage and valor of the Southern soldier. But not now. Not when that symbol has been used to show resistance to federal authority with regards to civil rights and integration.
Political correctness? Or an empathetic response to a hateful symbol? Those of you who read my site on a regular basis know that accusing me of being “politically correct” is pretty baseless. But I think that there are times we conservatives go too far in denigrating the very real and necessary reasons for, lack of a better term, political correctness; that to clutter our national conversation with words and symbols that come with historical baggage from a past where the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were relatively meaningless only serves to keep us separate as a people and gets in the way of uniting us.
It is a shame that the left uses political correctness as a club to score political points and choke off conversation. I would hope that by giving meaning and historical context to these very, very few words and symbols that signify hate and divisiveness in any context, we can elevate the national dialogue and talk about these issues without fear of wounding those who have suffered and continue to suffer from an American past that too often failed to live up to its golden promise of being that “shining city on a hill.”