COMMENTARY | I write about race. A lot. And yet over the past week or so, there’s one thing I simply could not contemplate long enough to get the words on paper.
The killing of Trayvon Martin.
It’s indescribably sad, a teen doing a favor for his little brother, buying him a pack of Skittles at the store, shot dead apparently because the man following him — according to the friend with whom he was on the phone, reports CNN — found him “threatening.” Self-defense, the shooter claims.
Self-defense from a boy with Skittles in his pocket for a brother who may spend a lifetime wondering what would have happened if he hadn’t asked, what would have happened if his brother had said “no.”
In Trayvon’s face I see my nephew’s best friend, a sweet, quiet kid heading off to college in the fall. I see the bright eyes of my friend’s baby son, so smart, so quick with a hug. The fear strikes me solidly, coldly: will it be them, too?
A few years ago, there was a groundswell against so-called “political correctness,” which means many things to different people. Those who decry it claimed they wanted to use the language that they wanted to use, that it was somehow burdensome to be socially pressured to call people what they wanted to be called.
But that’s not really what lies at the heart of the fight. It’s not a fight over words, it’s a fight over ideas. When people talk about despising “political correctness,” what they really despise is the social unacceptability of espousing views that pigeonhole people because of their race or gender or religion. And we’re seeing the effect of that rebellion daily.
The current “debate” over women’s health and the “personhood” of a zygote over the personhood of an adult, fully-formed human could not happen in that environment, not because of the language used, but because it requires the premise that women are somehow inferior. In a “PC” world, that idea is socially rejected.
And the shooting of an unarmed child on his way home from buying candy being labeled as “self-defense” involves some assumptions as well, particularly about the risk that he posed in order for George Zimmerman to have acted in “self-defense.” To think Trayvon was a threat, Zimmerman must believe young black men are dangerous. Zimmerman’s 911 calling history, with four out of six calls in seven months reporting “suspicious black men,” indicates it may be his regular assumption.
A PC world rejects the notion that black men are inherently suspicious, and therefore invalidates Zimmerman’s “self-defense.” Without the stereotype, there was nothing to defend, but in our anti-PC present, Zimmerman has yet to be prosecuted.
Don’t fool yourself. Call it whatever you want, but political correctness isn’t about word usage. It’s about ideas that can alter the very structure of society, ideas that can change the course of a person’s life and, in Trayvon Martin’s case, ideas that can end a life or save one.