Demonstrators take part in an anti-racism protest outside the US Embassy in London on June 7. Photo: Xinhua
Amid the protests spurred by George Floyd’s death, the demand for political correctness has reached new heights.
A statue of Christopher Columbus in St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota, was toppled. Another one in Boston was beheaded, because of allegations from some historians that his voyages, that led to the colonization of the Americas, resulted in appalling abuse of native people. He is accused of tyranny, genocide and engaging in slavery – and is now regarded by the left of the political spectrum as an explorer to be abhorred rather than applauded.
Columbus is not alone in this new trend of erasing political incorrect culture. Cable channel HBO has temporarily pulled Gone With the Wind because of “racist depictions” in the 1939 classic movie. The movie was only revised once and given an introduction that had been written by a black scholar that puts the film into its historical context.
Meanwhile, Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the legendary sitcom Friends, which ran for ten seasons between 1994-2004 and is still popular today, apologized publicly for the lack of diversity in its cast – all of the major characters are white.
The news media has also been embroiled in a series of incidents. On June 7, James Bennet, The New York Times op-ed page editor, resigned after massive pressure from readers and the Times’ own journalists over the paper’s decision to publish an op-ed piece by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, calling for the use of the military to crackdown on those protesting and rioting over Floyd’s death.
These and many other events – including a series of firings and forced apologies in the news media and academia – have startled many Chinese in the US who thought that freedom of speech is being infringed upon. Some articles and comments circulating on WeChat even suggested that the Cultural Revolution, a sociopolitical movement between 1966 and 1976 in China, has been reincarnated in the US. For many older Chinese, that period was a nightmare.
These fears are exaggerated. What is going on now in the US is not an American cultural revolution in many senses. For one, no single person or small group of people has the power to ignite, halt or tame the movement. And when the left are smashing the statues, the right are not being locked in reeducation camps. Rather, they are fighting back via their own media platforms like Fox News and the One American News Network (OANN), whose voices are often amplified by President Donald Trump’s megapower tweets. They also have street activities in which right-wing militias arm up with guns to square off against the “black lives matter” protesters.
But there should be some concern among liberals that the tactics the left are adopting are too zealous to mobilize more people to join their side.
It is true that racism has never loosened its grip on the US. Although the civil rights movement has made progress in the past half century, clearly overt racism has not been reduced enough, let alone eliminated. Minorities are still fighting for their basic human rights.
This was made clear by the death of George Floyd, a black man whose life was terminated by a police officer when he put his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minute and 46 seconds on May 25. It was underscored a few days ago when Rayshard Brooks, another black man, was shot dead by the police in Atlanta on June 12 after he resisted arrest in a fast-food drive-through.
It is such incidents that have pushed the black community and the left to fight back with behavior that sometimes may seem to be radical. Take the toppling statue movement. Targets now include major figures in history, such as Italian explorer Columbus, and Thomas Jefferson, who as well as being author of the Declaration of Independence was also a slave owner.
It originally started with the removal of Confederate war statues, such as General Robert Lee, after the Charleston church shooting in 2015 in which a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers.
Still, the ramped-up culture wars may be pushing a legitimate cause to dangerous extremes. The left are overstretching by attacking an increasingly large number of historical and more modern elements of culture. They are also too ready to shoot the “racism” bullet at anyone who dares to say anything they don’t like, or dares to reveal their doubts, hesitations, or confusions about the movement.
And the targets aren’t only well-known politicians or pundits who can defend themselves more easily. A Chinese-American high school student recently suffered a verbal pummeling simply because she didn’t say anything, according to a WeChat post written by her mother that went viral.
Based on the mother’s account, her daughter, who was the president of the Asian students association at the school, had been working hard to build bridges between different ethnic groups. But during the recent protests, because she didn’t sign on the petitions students initiated in social media to support the Black Lives Matter movement, she was singled out and cyber bullied.
“In a society built on principles of equality, democracy and law and order, if keeping silence is considered a crime, I doubt how many different voices it can accommodate,” the mother wrote in the article entitled, “Do We Have the Right to Keep Silent.”
This could be the Achilles’ heel of this movement. When the real racists are well shielded by their indifference to the cries of protesters, those who are sympathetic are bleeding from the wounds left by the steamroller of anti-racism.
And things could be even worse for the left if some of those moderate supporters are pushed to the other side in November’s presidential election.
The author is a New York-based journalist and Alicia Patterson fellow. email@example.com
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