“Gah, this PC culture!” said with an eye roll. I’ve heard it from patients, the media, my own father (love you, Dad!). It’s said as a complaint. “How annoying, this PC culture policing how I talk.”
I read about an encounter just this morning: an attorney was going through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport when a TSA agent grabbed her braids, cracked them like a whip, and said “Giddyup!” When Mrs. Houska protested, the agent said, “Well it was just in fun, I’m sorry, your hair is lovely.” Lighten up, don’t be so sensitive, here’s a compliment to make you feel better.
Not only is Mrs. Houska a grown woman, who should have full authority over who gets to touch her body, and certainly in such a demeaning manner, but she also happens to be Native. In her culture, her braids are sacred to her, part of her spirit.
Being politically correct, in my mind, is another way of saying being considerate. Being considerate to other people and respecting their dignity and humanity. It may seem like people are being overly sensitive when they complain about something seemingly simple and innocent. Like the TSA agent who thought she was acting in good fun. But she wasn’t friends with Mrs. Houska, they didn’t have a level of intimacy that allowed for getting into her personal bubble, and she didn’t know anything about her culture. I think PC offenses often stem from misunderstandings created from our white dominant culture.
It’s hard to see how you are being offensive when you’re part of the dominant culture. America has been ruled by white people since before its official beginning. Believing in their “manifest destiny,” that they were entitled to this land because of God’s will, the Puritans and founding Americans justified wiping out the native people already thriving here, as well as enslaving hundreds of thousands of human beings from Africa and getting rich off their backs. It is a tragic piece of our history, and in order to live with doing that to millions of people, white people had to believe that people of color were literally less than human. Those beliefs got deeply entrenched into our American culture.
And even if people know better now, and realize that skin color makes us no different from each other than eye color, and if we admit that no one color or type of person is inherently any better than another, the fact remains that America has still been largely dominated by white culture. Aside from the large and powerful ways that white culture has dominated (we only recently got an even remotely diverse Congress, 44/45 presidents have been white, CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are mostly white, etc etc), white culture dominates in simple details as well. Think of “flesh colored” Band-Aids – who’s flesh color are they exactly? Certainly not Lupita Nyong’o’s.
So when someone tells us that something we’ve said is offensive to them, maybe we can’t see why. That’s ok, at first. It’s truly hard to see what you’re blinded to, if you’ve lived as a white person in White America for your whole life. But we need to believe people at their word, and to learn from them. Especially if they are a person of color or from a minority culture. We may not understand their offense and anger, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or deserved.
As a Christian, I believe that all people are created in the Image of God. Not only are we all created equally, but also that God deeply loves every person God’s ever created, and desires to live in harmony with them. I believe that it is my Christian duty to love all of God’s creation, and that includes learning from people who are different than I am. Growing up white in a white society means that I need to do extra leg work to learn about the minority experience. I’ve tried doing this by reading books written by people of color, following accounts on social media by LGBTQ folks, following the #blacklivesmatter movement, listening to podcasts on race and the racial experience in America. There are tons of resources out there to learn from.*
And it’s been eye-opening. It can get easy, as I learn about the minority experience both historically and currently in America, to feel guilty. I feel awful that “my people” did this. That we dehumanized so many people, tried to make less of them, to oppress and rule them, to silence their voices. There are horrific stories about the atrocities done in the name of white supremacy. And while I have never personally lynched anyone, I do need to acknowledge that the culture I belong to has been the source of the problem. White people literally created race (do a little research on that one), and are responsible for racism in our society. And until we can humbly admit that, and acknowledge the hurt done to people of color by the hands of white people, then true progress cannot be made.
These posts get a life of their own as I type them sometimes, and it’s fitting that this one went racial on Martin Luther King, Jr Day. His work is not done. Yes, black people have more legal rights now than ever before, but we are still not on a level playing field. Let’s be good listeners and learners, white people, and do the hard work of personal growth to help with moving the needle forward. As Dr. King said, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
*In case you’re interested, here are some of the books/podcasts/people I’ve learned from:
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. When They Call You a Terrorist by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Khan-Cullors. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. Reading Between the Lies: Black History by Dick Gregory. Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. Naturally Tan by Tan France. The Gospel in Color by Curtis A. Woods and Jarvis J. Williams. Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.
Podcasts between Jen Hatmaker and Lisa Sharon Harper, Lecray, Latasha Morrison, Austin Channing Brown. The Smartest Person in the Room podcast series on Race. The Next Question online show by Austin Channing Brown. The Be the Bridge Facebook group.
Instragram Hashtag “blacklivesmatter” and “BlackHistoryMonth” (links to all sorts of posts about black history, the black experience). Instagram accounts by Laverne Cox, Jeff Chu, Black History 365, World Relief Spokane, Latasha Morrison.