PC Culture

Last night I read an article, “Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture” in the Atlantic, originally published in October, 2018, reporting on a study about Americans’ view of PC Culture. 8000 people participated in the study. The article had no “angle.” It was just a report. The upshot of the report is that most Americans — the very large cross-culture and cross-color majority — feel uncomfortable with PC Culture. This vast majority is made up of people of all races and earns less than $50K/year. Of the various “political tribes” that emerged from the study, the “tribe” that embraced PC Culture (which is, at best, an amorphous term) most passionately has been labeled “Progressive Activists,” a group predominantly white, earning more than $100k/year with post-graduate degrees. It is a very small percentage of the population and an objective “elite.” The author of the article is part of that elite.

It’s possible to draw a lot of conclusions from this article. One easy (and, IMO wrong) is that cultural sensitivity (which isn’t, IMO, reflected by PC Culture) increases with affluence and education. The conclusion I drew is that the group of people that has (beyond race) the most in common is out there in the “trenches” working shoulder-by-shoulder every day. That group feels uncomfortable with PC Culture. One native-American respondent said he worried all the time that he would get something wrong and offend someone. What are the repercussions of that? I don’t know. I suppose that might depend on the context of his life, his job or maybe simply his personality.

The author — Yacha Mounk, a German/American political writer and professor who is studying the rise of populism throughout the world — doesn’t hide his biases. It’s clear that the study has made him question what he thought he knew to be true. This struck me particularly:

“…while 80 percent of Americans believe that political correctness has become a problem in the country, even more, 82 percent, believe that hate speech is also a problem.

It turns out that while progressive activists tend to think that only hate speech is a problem, and devoted conservatives tend to think that only political correctness is a problem, a clear majority of all Americans holds a more nuanced point of view: They abhor racism. But they don’t think that the way we now practice political correctness represents a promising way to overcome racial injustice.”


It made me think of the day of the Rodney King riots back in 1992 and the numerous signs I saw all over town as I drove home to my ghetto house in a very mixed neighborhood, signs saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” That day I took a walk at a nearby lake with my dogs. I saw a black couple I’d often seen on my walks and sometimes we nodded to each other to say, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen you before, you must live in the hood,” but we never spoke. That day we stopped and looked at each other a long time, tears in all of our eyes. That encounter ended in a big, three-way hug. The man said, “When are we going to be able to stop worrying about the color of someone’s skin?”

“I wish I knew,” I thought that day and think today.

My personal feeling is that people just want to get along with each other and the study seems to indicate the same thing. I got the message from some of the comments made by focus group members that people (of all cultures and colors) would rather just go to work, do their jobs, get along with their co-workers, pick up their pay check and go home than worry about whether they have gotten the latest progressive liberal mandated term for a group of human beings who — accidentally — have skin of a different color. Personally, I believe actions speak louder than words and its how we treat each other on a daily basis that matters the most, whatever we call each other.

I also think that DJT’s race baiting is a dangerous stunt that is designed to keep us distracted from bigger issues like the national debt, health insurance, poor schools, etc. But that’s a different blog post and I’m not likely to write it.


People of Color in the Medieval Period

I am white, therefore, I guess, no-color. Actually, I’m a lot of colors. Brown spots of freckles float on pink and white skin, the genetic residue of a lot of Brits and Vikings and a smidgeon of Italo/Greco something. Today I saw a announcement advertising a presentation at the Medieval Institute, “Medieval People of Color.” I about gagged.

The people of color in question — the presenters — are from India, China and an Arabian country (I forgot which). If they’re going to talk about “people of color” in medieval times how in hell are they going to do that? Recite “The Alhambra”?

One of the most interesting problems in looking at history is escaping, avoiding, fleeing from our own time, its biases, our “zeitgeist.” One example of this that I know well is how, during the 80s/90s “marginalized populations” fad, medieval scholars decided that lepers were marginalized and there was a plague of leprosy. Their “facts” were 1) for some odd reason from the 11th to the 13th century a lot of leper communities were built all over Europe (this is true; there were). OBVIOUSLY there must have been a shit load of lepers AND lepers were forced to stay in leper hospitals. 2) Sir Walter Scott depicted lepers as the scourge of the middle ages. Oh and we have Cadfael. Cadfail. 3) Medieval doctors could not accurately diagnose leprosy, therefore a lot of those guys probably weren’t lepers at all, but had syphilis.

Looking through the backward telescope, it’s easy to make assumptions. I write historical fiction and I have made a lot of mistakes, so many I don’t even want to do it any more, but one I did not make was that one. I didn’t read history while I was writing Martin of Gfenn (though I did later). I read what the people of the time wrote about lepers. It was vastly different from the history I read later.

Meanwhile, a relatively new science was applying itself to the graves in the innumerable leprosaria in Europe only to discover 1) there were few people and most of them were lepers in the graveyards of any of the leper hospitals and almost NONE in the “regular” graveyards. Meaning, two things a) Medieval doctors were good at diagnosing leprosy, b) medieval lepers in these hospital had it pretty good, c) documents showed the lepers were free to leave but why would they? 3) the number of leper hospitals was related to the role the leper played in Medieval culture; showing kindness to a leper was a sure road to salvation — we don’t think of them this way, but St. Martin of Tours and St. Francis (both famed leper-kissers) were almost pop stars in their time and among their great acts was showing kindness to lepers — what better insurance for a wealthy medieval family than building a leper hospital? and 4) Sir Walter Scott was writing pure fiction. Never mind Cadfael.

So here we are in our “black lives matter” (I believe they do, don’t misunderstand me) world and we’re having a look at “people of color in medieval times.”

The Arabs, Indians and Chinese had developed cultures WAY above most medieval European cultures in almost every respect. Us pink spotty people had NOTHING on any of those people of color. The Chinese are busy writing poetry on paper along with various other inscrutable yellow people things such as inventing cannons, woodblock printing and paper money. The brilliant, brown Arabs are blasting along with advanced mathematics and astronomy. The Indians — various colors from blue/black to pale yellow — are busy influencing the Arabs and, in turn, being influenced. Sadly, from our point of view, they followed a caste system, a misery for many but one which led to the Diamond Sutra. All kinds of cool merchandise (including human beings) is being carried back and forth on the Silk Road.

Of course, these cultures were shaken seriously by the arrival of Genghis Khan who was yellowish/brown.

When the Crusaders of all the predominant European shades went to the Holy Land and began slaughtering people randomly, they also saw things the like of which they had never seen — stone castles, for one, a technology they built on (ha ha damn I’m funny) and employed back in Europe. The cultural exchange that began as a result of the Crusades led to the modern world. As for “victims” — I think Monty Python has done a good job depicting the “cultural ethos of the time.” It was feudalism; we think of “serfs” but it was really about feuds…

Anyway, I’m almost tempted to take my pintoesque coloring to this conference to hear about “People of Color in the Medieval Period,” but I won’t. I’m trying to recover from my recent discovery of the slave trade of kidnapped Europeans to the American colonies. It’s not so much that I’m shocked by the fact that such a trade existed — humans have enslaved each other forever — but that I didn’t know it was REAL until I was 65, reading primary sources — advertisements — in periodicals from the 17th and 18th century. FYI, the Irish were considered an “inferior type” to the Swiss and German (slaves), less healthy, less hardy, less clean and less economical… Is that racism?

The moral of the story?

When are we just going to be PEOPLE? When are we going to be able to transcend the obvious (skin color) and acknowledge both our universally hideous and beautiful human history? It isn’t, ultimately, remarkable to me that we’ve all be enslaved. What’s remarkable is that somewhere along the line — and not that long ago — we decided to stop enslaving each other. The kind of humility that might lead us to accepting others is the same that might allow us to approach the worlds of our ancestors with clearer vision, asking “Who were you?” rather than assuming they were us, with our biases and experiences. They weren’t, but their choices brought us to the present moment, a moment that is unique to each of us. Talk about diversity… Meanwhile, “Come Patsy…”