By Guest Contributor Restructure!, originally posted at Restructure!
Excerpted from Whitey Don’t see that: The rising recognition of ‘white privilege’ in Western academia (PDF) by
Laurence Berg, Canada Research Chair for Human Rights, Diversity and Identity, disagrees with the
idea that PC language and policies are oppressive. Why? Because he doesn’t really believe that PC policies existed in the first place.
“What [they]’re calling the ‘PC movement’ I would call a social movement by marginalised people and the people who support them,” he said. “[A movement] to use language that’s more correct—not ‘politically correct’—that more accurately represents reality.”
Berg is referring to a way of thinking that many of us students were too young to catch the first time around. For us, the term ‘politically correct’ survived the 90s, but the term ‘human rights backlash’ did not. Will Hutton, former editor-in-chief for the UK publication the Observer, described in his column how the term ‘PC’ was never really a political stance at all, contrary to popular belief. It was actually perceived by many as a right-wing tactic to dismiss—or backlash against—left-leaning social change. Mock the trivial aspects of human rights politics, like its changing language, and you’ll succeed in obscuring the issue altogether.
Berg believes this is what political correctness is all about: “The term politically correct is a reactionary term,” he said. “[It was] created by people who were worried by [social] changes…that affected their everyday understanding of the world in ways that pointed out their role in creating or reproducing dominance and subordination.”
According to Berg, the indignation people feel against PC ideas reflects the discomfort we feel when language and politics begin to pull away from the dominant values we grew up with—in other words, white, middle-class values. It’s no small coincidence that the concept of political correctness originated in the 80s and 90s, just after human rights concerns and visible minority groups started getting real attention in politics and the media.
Berg explains that in its original context, PC was a pejorative term used by people who felt they were losing something. Exactly what they were losing is very hard to describe, especially to them. But many sociologists and historians today have come to a consensus on what they call it: it’s a loss of privilege—and in terms of race, a loss of white privilege.