The Importance Of Being Politically Correct

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Liberals have, for decades, taken shots for being political correct, for being sensitive, and for trying to "understand" people who are different from them. It's been a long road since the 60s. I don't know how I feel about Affirmative Action, these days. I remember cringing (even in my nationalist days) when I heard people says blacks couldn't be racist. I remember cringing more when that dude in D.C. got fired for using "niggardly." There's a way of looking at all the places liberals have gone wrong, and seeing this (what, 40 year?) exercise in tolerance as bad acid trip. But there's another way of looking at the great tolerance experiment--practicing for the future.

It may well be true that Geraldine Ferraro was a token choice for the VP slot in 84. But I was eight years old when that happened, and understood that Mondale was doing something that had never been done before, and thus assuming a level of risk. I don't think it's so much the act of nominating Ferraro, as it is the act of having people around you who have some sense of what sexism in this country means. I don't think it's so much having Jesse Jackson run in 84 and 88, as it is having people in your camp who understand what his run means. And then after his run is over, putting his people in positions of power in your party.

It's about practicing Tolerance. It's about attempting to understand people who are radically different from you, and saying to them you want their voice in the process. Tolerance isn't just a value you hold, so much as it's something you do repeatedly. It's uncomfortable. You fuck up. You go to parties where they play music that you don't know how to dance to. You go to restaurants where the food is difference. You go to neighborhoods, where no one speaks English. The whole time people on the outside are laughing at you. The people you're trying to understand get pissed at you, and call you racist, homophobe, bigot, sexist etc.

But they ultimately respect you for trying. And you get better. You pick up bits of a second language. You learn to like the food, to enjoy the music. And then one day you look up, and lo and behold, it seems like the whole world is dancing to that same music, eating that same food.

I respect Andrew's point about gay marriage being a conservative argument--except that most of the people making that argument aren't conservative at all. They're people like me, people whose parents came out of the allegedly disastrous 1960s. People who taught their kids the importance of understanding and respecting people who aren't like you.

The conservative movement has never gotten "tolerance." They think tolerance is something you do as a favor for someone else, that it's a slogan, that it involves appointing a showman who employs ancient slang. They don't understand. Tolerance is about warfare--it makes your army bigger than the other guy's army. It gives you access to weaponry that your enemies have seemingly never heard of (like, the internet).

Liberal Tolerance is the long war, it's the long game. It's Barack Obama, at his core. Liberal tolerance--not Jesse Helms--argued for interracial unions. Liberal tolerance is what allowed Obama to neutralize Rev. Wright, and make his race speech. Liberal tolerance is what allowed him to go to Notre Dame and talk with empathy about abortion. Liberal tolerance bets on the future. It presages that world (the world of today) that the GOP has spent very little time preparing for.

Below is a video of Tom Tancredo claiming that La Raza is the Latino KKK.  But Tom Tancredo knows very little about Latinos, La Raza or the KKK. He is the embodiment of conservative ignorance. He is the apex of Schiavo, "white hands," creationist museums, and, presently, the notion that the thrice-married should carry the banner for marriage.

I know that out in the world there are conservatives who are appalled by this. But they were not so outraged when times were swell. One reckoning that needs to come is the role that conservatives who knew better played, or rather didn't play, in the GOP's current predicament. Tom Tancredo is not a raving crazy--he's their invention. As a black dude who spent virtually his entire life on the bad end of conservative electoral strategy, I'm trying not to love this. But it is hard. I'll have to learn to be more tolerant.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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