Political Correctness and Diversity are Not the Same Thing
In an aggressive headline, Hanna Yusuf tells ethnic Britons who believe that the judging of the Great British Bake Off was not impartial to leave the United Kingdom. The biggest problem with call-out culture is not necessarily the ideas behind it but the need to ratchet all the rhetoric up until the needle is hitting the red part of the dial. At that point, distortion sets in. However, in our social media driven world, people respond. It’s an emotion laden call to the barricades that divides the entire world into those who are with the speaker and those who are against. I had done nothing other than read the headline and I was already angry at Yusuf although until this morning I’d never even heard of the Great British Bake Off. (Brits can cook? Who knew?)
This kind of writing has become all too common. I guess it must sell. I suspect strongly that reading it is like doing drugs. It gives you a jolt, a sort of high, when you read it, but more than occasional indulgence in outrage is probably bad for your health. It’s also bad for your intellect.
It’s definitely incongruous that I, of all people, should be annoyed by Yusuf’s article. Throughout my life I’ve always enjoyed diverse environments. So often I’ve found myself in them that I must subconsciously seek them out. I’ve seen enough situations in which a white person who has been accused of racism tries to prove they are not racist by pointing out that they have black friends and has been mocked for the statement that I’m fully aware of the social faux pas of stating that I’ve had a lot of friends of different backgrounds. Still, Yusuf’s argument is that people who didn’t like the results of the Great British Bake Off objected because the finalists are a Muslim woman who appears to be of African ancestry, a gay man whose ancestry I can’t tell from the photo but is apparently not of Celtic, Germanic or Norse ancestry, and a man who appears to be some mix of those aforementioned three ancestral groups most often associated with ethnic Britons. (Honestly, trying to be accurrate about this stuff is really a pain. I don’t what these three people are. Can we get some DNA tests here?) are racists.
My sister has made me watch Project Runway and Top Chef enough times that I have come to learn that people get ridiculously emotional about these contests. Personally, I prefer Project Runway because I can’t judge the food from the appearance.
So, her argument appears to be that the people unhappy about the results are racist and that, because Britain is a diverse society, they should leave the country. As I’ve explained to people elsewhere, “leave the country” is not a reasonable statement – just about ever. Countries have immigration laws. I can’t just move anywhere I like. In fact, at my age I suspect no country would take me unless I were rich. This may be rhetoric which is satisfying for Yusuf to yell, but it is ultimately empty and pointless.
She chooses to ignore the main argument which is fairly important because it’s at the heart of why some people who may like “diversity” might also dislike the results of the contest. I’m not really sure of the rules of the contest, but I’m under the impression that the entries are not judge anonymously. If I understand the correctly, some people feel that the prizes were not awarded to the baker whose work was objectively best, but biased in favor of non-white, not heterosexual or non-Christian contestants. Since I understand little about how this contest is run, I really can’t judge whether or not this belief has any basis in reality.
The trigger for Yusuf’s emotional outburst was a short note in a column in the Daily Mail by Amanda Platell. Looking at what she writes, there is even more irony in the fact that Yusuf triggered an angry emotional reaction in me. I’ve never heard of Amanda Platell before, but, looking at her column, I think we agree on next to nothing.
However, the thing that really annoyed me in Yusuf’s article was that she equated enjoying diversity and being PC. This is a falsehood I’d like to address before it become a truism. As I’ve said, I’ve always enjoyed diverse environments and more than once in my life I’ve found myself being the minority in a group. In fact, I believe I was once invited to join a group to be the token white. I’m perfectly comfortable being in a group that is majority black, majority east Asian, majority Jewish. I name those three because those are the three situations which have been most common in my life.
Being not entirely white, I guess I’ve never actually been in the majority, but I am I identified as white by other people and I’m mostly white and identify more as white than as anything else. I can’t say that I feel any more comfortable when I’m in a room full of people of northern European descent.
Moreover, many of my non-white, non-Christian ancestry friends have, in fact, come from other countries,, as have some of the white ones. Why do I seem to be drawn to foreigners? I’ve asked myself that so many times and I’ve never come up with an answer. My friends used to make fun of me, calling my ex-boyfriends “the United Nations.” Oh, yeah, it was a woman born in Malaysia and a friend who had grown up in Israel that used to say that. I’m fairly sanguine about the idea of the culture changing. Cultures change, with or without immigration. As far as cultural change goes, I’m more bothered by what social media has done to our political discourse than by what foreigners may be bringing here.
At the same time, I am not in the least bit “PC.” In fact, I would say that I am ideologically opposed to the concept of political correctness. The phrase originates from communist, mainly Stalinist, political circles. The Communist Party in the early and mid-twentieth century had positions regarding many political matters that were deemed “correct.” I grew up with enough red diaper babies that I was first familiar with this meaning of the word.
The term “politically correct” was used disparagingly, to refer to someone whose loyalty to the CP line overrode compassion, and led to bad politics. It was used by Socialists against Communists, and was meant to separate out Socialists who believed in egalitarian moral ideas from dogmatic Communists who would advocate and defend party positions regardless of their moral substance. (Herbert Kohl, quoted in Wikipedia)
As a liberal (and I truly mean liberal, not a leftist pretending to be liberal), I believe freedom of thought of expression must take precedence over other values. Without those, we have no reasonable way of establishing what those other values are to be. Belief in the value of argument does not make me value diversity any less. In fact, it may be one of the reasons I subconsciously seek out situations with diverse participants. What is the value of diversity if we are all to be gagged and prevented from having a free exchange?
Admittedly, Amanda Platell’s six sentence comment about “Poor Flora,” the light-skinned woman who lost in the last round of the Great British Bake Off, is so patently silly it’s hard to criticize without simply repeating it. Yet I might agree with the moniker “Poor Flora.” I don’t know anything about her politics but, she didn’t choose to have light skin; she was born that way. Now, she has the unenviable position of being a football in the culture war.
I confess to being one of those annoying liberals who secretly wants race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and any other category you can think of, to have little to no bearing on a cooking contest. (I was going to say “no bearing” but I remembered on Top Chef a woman won one round making an African peanut stew or soup. Food is a little too connected to culture to eliminate its influence. In fact, if we were really being PC maybe we should give ethnic English a head start, after all, they’re the ones who are handicapped in a cooking contest.)
The damaging thing about Yusuf’s article is that it will persuade no one, but will harden everyone’s positions. By connecting political correctness to diversity, she does a great disservice to diversity. I am an ordinary person in this society. I am not a member of the elite or a thought leader in any way. Yet I consider myself a rational person capable of making my own judgements. I do not want an elite positioned above me telling me what to think and sanctioning me if I say anything that contradicts the established positions. Furthermore, she makes living in a place where everyone is not from the same ethnic background sound about as fun as taking castor oil. Living in a world where we did not all agree and we all talked about it – now that would be real, meaningful diversity.
Yusuf’s article appeared in the Independent. I haven’t linked to it because I suspect that page views and hits are part of what’s driving this race to be louder than the next person. We have a new type of writer that has emerged in recent years. One that does little real research and writes mainly on one topic, preaches to the converted and stokes outrage. Writers like this provide no news. They give no reasoned analysis. They are mainly read by people who agree witht them. The commentary is so predictable, I think I could write an algorithm for it. They divide our societies and make it all but impossible to communicate with people who subscribe to different ideologies. Without this communication, compromise is impossible and politics becomes a battle with a scorched earth policy. Yusuf is well on her way to being another professional hate monger.