Bashing Bigot-Bashers Just as Conservatives Had Nearly Run Out of Liberals to Attack

ELLEN GOODMAN

April 02, 1991|By ELLEN GOODMAN

BOSTON. — She was accused the other day of being politically correct. Maybe it was the string bag in her hand. Maybe her use of the word ''person.'' Or her ticket stubs to ''Dances with Wolves.'' Maybe it was because she was known to favor such things as multi-culturalism or diversity.

She says that she was ''accused'' because this was not a friendly exchange. The label was delivered with a sneer and carried the aura of an epithet. Once attacked, she was expected to cringe with denial.

This brief encounter confirmed what she had suspected for some time. It was no longer trendy to be politically correct. Indeed, it had become wrong to be right. Or wrong to be too right which is to say too left.

Once the term PC had described an idealism that was at worst excessive, occasionally even silly. But at best, an on-going impetus for change. But that was before the rash of articles declaring the New McCarthyism, the New Stalinism, the New Hegemony (wonderful word that) and the Fascism of the Left on American campuses. She had counted now some half-a-dozen cover stories and several dozen major articles about these repressive progressives.

According to the current theory, a faculty raised on '60s dissent was spending the '90s rooting out the very last vestiges of racism, sexism, heterosexism, Euro-centrism, even looks-ism and species-ism. In the process, no dissent from their dissent was allowed.

Undergraduates in their care were said to be in hot pursuit of the very last racial slur, sexual leer or environmentally unsound T-shirt. They had become conformists in their belief in diversity, narrow-minded in pursuit of multi-culturalism, and vicious in the fight against cultural insensitivity. All this was dire proof that liberal commandants were suppressing free thought and intellectual debate. Proof that their establishment had produced a corps of storm troopers intent on, gasp, bashing intolerance.

Who would have dreamed that being politically correct would become such a character flaw? Who would have thought that we would come full circle at such a dizzying speed? That it would become trendy to be anti-PC, or APC if you prefer.

Frankly the woman was always surprised at the power struggles that emanated out of academia. There are reasons why the colleges refer to the rest of the country as ''the real world.'' Nowhere else in America do people believe so passionately in the power of ideas. Universities are not only idea factories, they are also communities. Most take seriously the commitment to shape an ideal small society.

In the past decade the gap between these ivory-tower societies and the increasingly conservative real world has widened enormously. Their relatively progressive aura has made some colleges seem a touch more unreal. They have become both the last liberal bastion and also the last juicy target for conservatives.

Now comes the movement against the evils of too-goodness, the terrors of political correctness. Just in the nick of time.

Conservatives had nearly run out of liberals to attack. Now they can experience the pleasure of bashing bigot-bashing.

Undergraduates had nearly run out of ways to rebel. Now they can show they are free thinkers by writing diatribes against minorities, hanging Confederate flags and yelling epithets against homosexuals in the dorms. They can stand up against the pressure to accept sexual equality and ethnic diversity.

Indeed, upon graduation the anti-PC students will be able to go instantly from being rebels on campus to being full-fledged members of the establishment -- without having to change ideology.

Frankly, this woman had never worried too much about the excesses of progressive campus virtue. After all, it's already politically correct to hold campus conferences questioning political correctness.

But she does worry that PC is the L-word of the '90s. The movement against it is another way of trashing idealism, putting a lid on change, pushing back what in a less heated phrase might be called humanistic values. Even progress.

So, pin this one on her unrepentant string bag: PC Pride.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

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