This is the sixth and last in a series of posts.
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Part Two: Pissing on Language (4)
Being “politically correct” ceases to mean what it originally meant. It ceases to mean: catering to what is already politically accepted by those with whom one is speaking, rather than being open and honest with them, helping to form wise and honest political decisions through ongoing discourse with one another. Instead, the phrase is taken out of circulation in common, politically constructive conversation, and appropriated by the proponents of one position, to be used as a weapon to cut off conversation and silence others. The first party thereby stops conversing with the second, instead excluding that second party from the conversation altogether.
“Discrimination” ceases to mean the systemic subordination of the social, economic, and political interests of an oppressed population by an oppressing one. Instead, it comes to mean no more than individualized inclinations of anyone in general against anyone else of a different religion, county of origin, sex, sexual orientation, ethnic group, economic status, or whatever.
A paradigm of such deflation or flattening of the term “discrimination” and its cognates is the common currency given to the oxymoronic term and idea of “reverse discrimination.”
That term was first granted currency when the United States Supreme Court issued its judgment in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case back in 1978. In accordance with that decision and the usage it made of that expression, the animus of the oppressed against their oppressors was put on a par with the very systemic practices whereby the oppressed were, and remain, oppressed. In that process, “discrimination” was turned from a community political matter into one of individual morality. , The oppressed themselves were thereby further repressed by being robbed of an important element of the very vocabulary they needed to protest against their oppression.
Similarly, with the emergence and spread of the officially sanctioned euphemism “affirmative action” during the year of the Johnson Administration, discussion of racism in the United States and its redress was blunted, blurred, and derailed. As Jeff Chang writes in “Is Diversity for White People? On Fearmongering, Picture Taking and Avoidance,” a chapter of We Gon’ Be alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation: “For a long time [thereafter], the debate over affirmative action was a proxy for discussing race and inequality. It was a way to talk about debt and reparations, guilt and transformation, without ever using those words.”
As Chang points out, however, the compromise majority Supreme Court decision written by Justice Lewis Powell, Jr., in the California v. Bakke case helped even further flatten the linguistic terrain. It did so by equating “affirmative action” itself with action that ran contrary to the supposed “colorblindness” which that same decision suddenly discovered to be an official national ideal.
That same flattening process has, in fact, gone so far that for quite a while already now, many treat the phrase “affirmative action” as though it were a euphemism, not for acts of national acknowledgement, repentance, and atonement for a long history of systemic racism and discrimination, but for the oxymoronic notion of “reverse discrimination,” itself held out as a failure to adhere to the policy of supposed “colorblindness.” That latter term itself thus loses all remaining legitimate usage and comes to be no more than a cover-word for the institutionalized refusal to repent for racism, let alone actively to try to atone for it.
By Powell’s decision for the majority in the Bakke case, it was illegal for institutions of higher education in the United States to take actions designed to redress the results of centuries of racist oppression in this country. However, it was still permissible for them to seek “diversity,” which Powell held up as of positive benefit for general educational purposes.
No quotas were permitted, that is, no efforts to amend for the centuries of quotas imposed everywhere against minorities, from African Americans to Asian Americans to Hispanic Americans to Jewish Americans and so on, on and on. But Powell did still permit consideration of ethnic differences in higher education student-admission decisions, but only so long as that was just one factor among others considered for the sake a fostering such cherished “diversity” among student populations in institutions of higher learning.
After all, such “diversity” enriched the educational experience of all the fine young white folks, offspring of those who really owned the place, be that place the University of California, or the United States of America.
Chang is very good on all that. His analyses show how the United States “remembers” the Third Reich by repeatedly doing the same sorts of things the Third Reich did, precisely in order to remain the Reich, the Kingdom, the Realm—that is, the sole claimant to coercive power over the whole domain. Such repetitive remembering includes, especially, pissing on language, by flattening it of all its own real power, its definitive potentialities as language.
Pissing on language by flattening it in that way is pissing, as well, on all those who might use an un-flattened, un-pissed-on language to protest against their oppression. Most especially it is pissing on the memory of those who have long suffered the most from such oppression. It pisses on their memory just as the cop’s dog pissed on the memorials that spontaneously sprang in Ferguson, Missouri, for Michael Brown, after another cop shot him dead.
That’s how to remember the Third Reich, American Style.