I first heard the phrase politically correct some time in the late 1970’s. Most of my political activism was around women’s issues, and by then a lot of warring factions were at each other’s throats. Lesbians versus heterosexuals—the latter were “sleeping with the enemy.” Pornography haters versus First Amendment lovers—we were way too timid back then to actually be for sexual explicitness. Mothers versus childless women (the term non-mother, defining someone by what she isn’t, was politically incorrect). Lesbian separatists versus women who worked, or played, with men. (Were gay men all right? What about transsexuals? Going which way?) Bisexuality not a choice but a copout–we were doing it to pass, hopefully only temporarily (though how we were ever going to cross over wasn’t clear, since dyed-in-the-wool lesbians wouldn’t sleep with us on principle).
These issues exploded into nasty scenarios all over the place. Mothers were barred from music festivals if they brought their male toddlers along. Straight poets were excluded from poetry readings lest they—gasp!–read poems about loving men. Straight women were asked to leave the room so lesbians could caucus in “safety.” Every week our small-town newspaper printed letters attacking something considered un-PC. The atmosphere was stifling, with people eagerly waiting for someone to make a misstep so the gang could descend.
Political Correctness also referred to more surface matters: clothing and style, or magazine subscriptions, or how much money someone had. In 1979 or thereabouts, in response to this Politically Correct Reign of Terror, I wrote the following poem:
My stylishly booted friend
changes into sneakers
for the abortion rights rally
The phrase rolls easily off her tongue
evoking images of gray-hooded peasants,
an army of revolutionary clones.
I assure her
that high-heeled shoes
and pure silk blouses
have nothing to do
In the morning
the man who supports her
discusses his plans for the day:
replacing a vice-president in Tokyo;
lunching with the head of a Madrid corporation;
making final payment on his new Mercedes Benz.
is telling me something
about the need for funding the arts
but my ears jam with the cries
of an African baby
under the crunch
of a well-heeled
I haven’t read or published that poem in a long time because I thought it was out of date: the concept of Political Correctness, as it spread throughout the mainstream, came to refer primarily to speech, to the use of words deemed wrong or demeaning. But in fact the atmosphere is still just as stifling, with everyone eagerly waiting to jump on anyone who utters anything deemed politically incorrect.
I awoke this morning to Al Sharpton on Democracy NOW!, calling out the troops to purge Don Imus from the airwaves. Sharpton was followed by Maretta Short of the National Organization for Women, who echoed his sentiments. Protests and rallies are in the works.
I’m not here to defend Don Imus, or to hold up the word ho’s as the highest form of flattery. Nor am I suggesting that nappy headed ‘ho’s is an accurate description of female athletes. But I am sick to death of Political Correctness being used as a weapon. I’m sick of people bullying one another in the name of PC. And I am thoroughly sick of PC being used to divide and conquer: at a time when the Feds bleep and black out anything they deem offensive, Al Sharpton is calling on the FCC to regulate racist speech.
Don Imus already apologized publicly. In private, I’m certain he’s baffled by the criticism. I doubt he’s learned anything about black women, Title IX, or female athletes. Nor has anyone else. All we’ve learned, yet again, is that we’d better be very, very careful about what we say in public.