Getting a couple of comments on some of my old posts has finally given me the push I was looking for to hammer out this post that’s been running the treadmill of my brain for a while. The basic point is one that has certainly been made before: political correctness means exactly the opposite of whatever you think it means.
“Politically correct” would be what is politically easiest, what gets you the farthest, what makes people like you the most, what raises the least amount of fuss around you. It is not politically correct to call people out on standard everyday sexism/racism/homophobia/ableism–this is borne out by the fact that practically every single time I do it, I have to have an argument about whether or not the comment was inappropriate (including in a workplace environment), I’m frequently met with rolling eyes and I’m regularly told I’m being too “politically correct”. It certainly never makes anyone like me any better. The fact that my “political correctness” is exactly what would make me unelectable to political office makes me insist (sorry, the phrase must be uttered): You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
So in thinking again about our Canadian value system of “peace, order and good government”, I can’t help but notice how easy it is to make that all about shooting the messenger. I’m annoying because I talk about sexual violence, abuse, racism against First Nations peoples, and the reality of gay bashing right down the street. It’s not orderly. It’s not polite. It’s not “politically correct”. I’m the one making a fuss, making a scene, causing a problem, if I tell the random stranger who just “asked” me to “bring those over here” to fuck off.
I know this problem exists in the US and all over the world. I know this is a standard technique for silencing dissent and maintaining the status quo. But there is a particular virulence to the image of Canadians as peaceful, tolerant and unassuming that also implies we don’t make a fuss–the “Far Too Canadian” category that I use is a reference to an old Spirit of the West song that includes these lines :
I kiss the hand that slaps me senseless
I’m so accepting I am/So defenseless
I bite the hand that slaps me senseless
But my patience, it is too relentless
And we do. We’re proud of the fact that our country came about peacefully, without revolution, without so many bombs and fireworks and all that unseemly brouhaha. Sure, we’ll call it boring, but we’re perversely proud of being boring. We’re simultaneously convinced that we’re so tolerant there’s no reason to have a revolution (good old, shiny happy liberal Canada) and that we’re just not the revoltin’ kind anyway. So forgive me for not going around professing pride in my country, in my uniquely Canadian value system and in the myth that is our tolerant multicultural society.
When I was 16 and on exchange in Brazil, after I had been there about three or four months, I went to the store to buy some stationary or something. Because of the store layout and whatnot, it was possible for people to easily cut in line ahead of me without being noticed by the clerk, so several of them did. And I would start to speak up (I definitely spoke Portuguese well enough by that point to do so), and then stop, not wanting to make a scene. I wouldn’t want to appear rude, so I just figured I could wait longer. Except people kept cutting in front of me, and I kept being not-rude. For forty-five minutes. The thing that finally woke me up to just, um, not let that happen (seriously, all I had to say was “excuse me, I was next”) was that I started quietly singing to myself, and the song that came to my head was the aforementioned “Far Too Canadian”, which starts off “I’m so content to stand in line–wait and see, pass the time”.
A silly and pithy example? Of course. But I still think it maps onto the concept of peace, order, good government, political correctness and not making a scene without all that much twisting and stretching.