In consideration of Political Correctness

I invite you to consider the following statement reported by CNN in an article about  Republican current (as of 2/21/17) attitudes toward President Trump.

“The country was going on a near-death experience collision. Political correctness was about to strangle us all.”

As a liberal I have long been bemused and annoyed by the conservative obsession with political correctness, but I never imagined that it was more than a subplot or, to mix metaphors, background music, to their major themes of small government, low taxes and hawkish foreign policy. So, I was astonished to realize that the voter quoted feels she is about to be strangled. If this view is representative, I have drastically under appreciated the importance that conservative excoriation of political correctness has played in our politics and how it may have helped fuel Trump’s victory last fall.

In that light, I would like to invite my conservative friends to pause for a moment and consider why one liberal thinks political correctness is very important. Every culture has a socially dominant group which holds most of the wealth and wields most of the power. Those that are not members of this group are perceived as outsiders. They are the “other”. They are seen variously as inferior, threatening or just strange. In the United States, I am sure you will all agree, the dominant group is white, Christian and male, but, obviously, our diverse nation consists of huge numbers of people that don’t belong—our minorities. Political correctness is simply the effort to use language in a way that minimizes the “otherness” of these minorities. It’s a show of respect, kind of verbal welcome mat. PC language acknowledges and embraces the amazing diversity of our country today.

Consider an oversimplified hypothetical situation in which you, a Christian, are speaking to your Jewish friend in December. After the conversation, you could say goodbye with “Merry Christmas,” which would be completely acceptable, but I guess that most people would not. In thoughtful honor of your friend’s beliefs you would, most likely, offer him or her “Happy Chanukah,” without feeling that you had somehow betrayed your own religious values.

Of course, in our diverse social groups, we don’t know everyone’s religion, so we offer the innocuous and non-committal “Happy Holidays” which drives conservatives crazy. If you insist on “Merry Christmas” in that diverse group, you are subtly suggesting that your holiday (that of the dominant social group) is more important than the other holidays. You are calling attention to the “otherness” of anyone who is not a member of your group and does not celebrate Christmas. It is a sign of disrespect. By choosing to use “Happy Holidays”, no group is singled out as superior.

Of course, the debate regarding political correctness goes beyond the “war on Christmas” to many other issues. Regardless of the issue, my question is, if you agree with the voter quoted above, why do these small gestures of inclusion offered to minority groups make you feel like you are strangling? What is it that you feel you are losing? Do you feel that you are somehow forced to deny your own beliefs? Is it, perhaps, still important to you to feel like a member of the dominant group? Could it be that you are not quite comfortable in accepting those other groups as the equals of your own?


I want to let everyone know about this event co-organized by CUNY professor Anupama Kapse on the activism that is surging around the question of sanctuary campuses.


Finding a School

How would you choose a school if you didn’t really know what you wanted to study and you didn’t really care where it was? As I planned my retirement, I started with that little definition about my goals. I knew I wanted to go to school because I had always loved engaging in the exploration of ideas. I had a feeling I wanted to get back to the field of literature, which was my college major. However, I had also developed interest in politics, philosophy and sustainability. I also knew that my income would be limited in retirement, so cost was a factor. Finally, I had no stomach for a rigorous admissions process such as my daughter had just gone through to get into Pratt. The thought of taking the GRE filled me with dread. Either I had to find a program that did not require it or, perhaps, I would just audit courses or study as non-matriculant.

With these predispositions, I started browsing the websites of a number of NY area schools, including NYU, Columbia, Hunter and SUNY Purchase. My goal was to get a sense of what courses/programs were available to “non-traditional” students. It was, at times, frustratingly difficult to tell. And then a lucky accident occured.

I was trying to hire a new project manager and in the process of that search, I interviewed a woman who was pursuing a Phd at CUNY. I went to their website and discovered MALS, though I didn’t know it by that name at the time. I was fascinated by several of the tracks that were offered plus I was delighted by the fact that the GRE was not required. Best of all, the tuition was unbelievably low. I thought to myself, “This is a great resource. Let me find out more.”


How I got here, chapter one.

As retirement loomed three or four years ago, I thought about what I wanted my life to be like. In that soul searching exercise, I discovered that the experience that I most loved was being a student. Through college and graduate school, I loved engaging my mind in a rigorous and challenging way. Being part of a community of like minded individuals would be a very satisfying way to live. The only aspect of my student days that I did not want to revisit was the massive stress involved in getting good grades.

So, I hatched the plan to go back to school. In that early stage it didn’t really matter what or where, but I had to make some kind of decision to make the fantasy a concrete reality. Come back next time for how I made that decision.