Is Political Correctness a Solution — or a Desperate Cover-Up?

[Transcript below video.]

I know that there is a lot of sexual harassment, racism and so on in our lives, and I don’t doubt that the majority of people who promote political correctness mean it sincerely. I’m not saying that. I’m not saying in the way of right-wing paranoia that they are evil people who want to destroy American way of life. I’m just saying this that the way they approach the problem is that instead of resolving it the predominant effect is just to keep it under check and allowing the true problem – racism, sexism – to survive in a more covered up version and so on and so on. For example, I always like this extreme example, let’s take racist jokes. Yes they function in a racist way. But for me the true overcoming of racism is not that you prohibit racist jokes, but that you establish a social, not just … not even only social change, new society, but even such a change of atmosphere that you can tell exactly the same jokes without appearing a racist. When you are simply, in a true relationship of equality, respect and so on, sometimes dirty jokes, even gently racist jokes done in a non-racist way – by this I mean that you include yourself in, you make fun of yourself and so on, they’re incredible – I think your American term is – icebreakers. Because it’s easy to be a non-racist in this political correct way ‘oh I respect you, your food, your national identities,’ No! When does it happen, the real contact with another?

I claim it’s very difficult to arrive at it without a small exchange of an obscenity. It works in a wonderful way. So I claim … for me an ideal post-racist situation is: let’s say I am an Indian and you are an African American. We are telling all the time dirty jokes to each other, about each other, about ourselves, but in such a way that we just laugh and the more we are telling them the more we are friends. I mean, why? Because in this way we really resolved the tension of racism. What I’m afraid with, now coming back to your question, with political correctness is that it’s a desperate reaction. They know they cannot solve the real problem so they escape into controlling how we speak about it. And by real problem I don’t to mean in a primitive way just economic redistribution and so on, but even the symbolic fact of actual social relationship and so on.

You know what should political correct people learn? British customs. Why? Because – British and Japanese, different countries – but they are two of the countries which are mega masters in how to reproduce all the brutality of domination, despising the other but without being offensive with an utmost nice speech elegance and so on. You know? That’s the miracle of truly successful racism, that you reproduce all the prejudices but with a very soft point apparently respecting the other and so on and so on. So again, what also bothers me with political correctness or distolerance of the other is that tolerance is a false notion today. I always like this example: I always – to my students when they claim ‘if you are against tolerance, what are you for brutal racism? No.’ I tell them okay there is one guy who did quite a lot against racism, Martin Luther King. Look at his speeches. He never even mentions the word tolerance. I checked it up you can download his speech. If you were to tell him that we white people need to be more tolerant towards the black people he would have laughed probably. No? So this is a very suspicious idea that this translation of domination of racism and so on into terms of tolerance. No! Tolerance is a very ambiguous term. Quite often tolerance can even work as it’s own opposite.

Zizek: 'Tolerance often means intolerance for the actual other. They accept the other, insofar as it is the 'purified' other. ' Click To Tweet In want sense? Look, if you take a typical upper middle-class American, I would like to put him or her – I saw them – together with a real low class African-American or white guy, I can guarantee you they would be horrified with all the dirty jokes, vulgarities and so on. And for them they would have been very intolerant towards him. So for me there is always – in tolerance – something off, ‘let’s keep the other, insofar as he/she/they/it disturbs me, at the proper distance. Don’t allow them to come to close to me.’ Tolerance often means intolerance for the actual other. They accept the other, insofar as it is the ‘purified’ other. Like, for example, for politically correct people ‘Native Americans,’ whatever you call them – I don’t want to call them that. You know my old joke, which is true. I met some Native American so-called university people who told me they hate the term ‘Native Americans.’ Why? Because it has this uncanny opposition – sorry, [not] uncanny, subtle – nature/culture, we are ‘native’ and what are you then? ‘Cultural’ Americans or what? They told me ‘we much prefer to be called Indians; at least our name is a monument to white man’s stupidity who thought they are in India when they are here.’ So I love this. They are so fanatically suspicious about this false patronizing appraisal of the white liberals. Like you know, ‘we usually say we brutally exploit nature, mining and so on, but Native Americans do it differently. They talk to mountains; they have this more organic dialogic approach and so on and so on.’ They hate this so much. One of them even so brutally told me – I love this, this is true. He gave me – I forgot his name I’m very sorry – a short text he wrote where he demonstrates through statistics, I don’t know if it’s true, let’s say he tries to demonstrate, that Native Americans, so-called Indians, killed more buffaloes and burned more forests than all white people together. What was his point? His point was precisely ‘don’t idealize us. You are patronizing us by making this politically correct pure people who are holistic blah, blah, blah. No! Please we can also be evil; we can also be horrible and so on and so on.’ You see it’s the same problem with refugees in Europe, intelligent Native Americans are terribly sensitive against the oppressive other side of this politically correct way of ‘Native Americans have some ancient wisdom holistic approach’ and so on and so on.

I mean that’s why, I’m sorry if I repeat an old story of mine, but that’s why I sincerely admire Malcolm X. You know why? What does it mean X? It means, of course, we don’t have family name. We black slaves were torn out deprived of our roots and like family links and so on when they were kidnapped from Africa and so on. But what’s his genius? His way is not the way of that stupid Hollywood best seller James Haley  [Alex Haley–ed.], or who wrote Roots. ‘Oh, let’s find our roots.’ No, his idea is what if this X – it means we have no roots, we are deprived of roots, – what if this gives us a new freedom to establish a new more universal community than that of white people? It’s an ingenious idea of seeing what appears and is terrible trauma being deprived of your roots you have no proper tradition, family tradition and so on is a new chance of freedom.

[Appeared on Big Think on January 4th 2017.]