2018-12-05 00:54:29 UTC
Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture
Youth isn’t a good proxy for support of political correctness, and race
OCT 10, 2018
Lecturer on government at Harvard University
Demonstrator at pro-Trump rally for free speech
A man dressed as Captain America speaks to a demonstrator during the
pro-Trump 'Mother of All Rallies'ZACH GIBSON / AFP / GETTY
On social media, the country seems to divide into two neat camps: Call
them the woke and the resentful. Team Resentment is manned—pun very much
intended—by people who are predominantly old and almost exclusively
white. Team Woke is young, likely to be female, and predominantly black,
brown, or Asian (though white “allies” do their dutiful part). These
teams are roughly equal in number, and they disagree most vehemently, as
well as most routinely, about the catchall known as political correctness.
Reality is nothing like this. As scholars Stephen Hawkins, Daniel
Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon argue in a report published
Wednesday, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,”
most Americans don’t fit into either of these camps. They also share
more common ground than the daily fights on social media might
suggest—including a general aversion to PC culture.
Read: An optimist’s guide to political correctness
The study was written by More in Common, an organization founded in
memory of Jo Cox, the British MP who was murdered in the run-up to the
Brexit referendum. It is based on a nationally representative poll with
8,000 respondents, 30 one-hour interviews, and six focus groups
conducted from December 2017 to September 2018.
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If you look at what Americans have to say on issues such as immigration,
the extent of white privilege, and the prevalence of sexual harassment,
the authors argue, seven distinct clusters emerge: progressive
activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically
disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives.
According to the report, 25 percent of Americans are traditional or
devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American
mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and
their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of
Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted
majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized
national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political
viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”
Most members of the “exhausted majority,” and then some, dislike
political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent
believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” Even
young people are uncomfortable with it, including 74 percent ages 24 to
29, and 79 percent under age 24. On this particular issue, the woke are
in a clear minority across all ages.
Youth isn’t a good proxy for support of political correctness—and it
turns out race isn’t, either.
Whites are ever so slightly less likely than average to believe that
political correctness is a problem in the country: 79 percent of them
share this sentiment. Instead, it is Asians (82 percent), Hispanics (87
percent), and American Indians (88 percent) who are most likely to
oppose political correctness. As one 40-year-old American Indian in
Oklahoma said in his focus group, according to the report:
It seems like everyday you wake up something has changed … Do you say
Jew? Or Jewish? Is it a black guy? African-American? … You are on your
toes because you never know what to say. So political correctness in
that sense is scary.
The one part of the standard narrative that the data partially affirm is
that African Americans are most likely to support political correctness.
But the difference between them and other groups is much smaller than
generally supposed: Three quarters of African Americans oppose political
correctness. This means that they are only four percentage points less
likely than whites, and only five percentage points less likely than the
average, to believe that political correctness is a problem.
If age and race do not predict support for political correctness, what
does? Income and education.
While 83 percent of respondents who make less than $50,000 dislike
political correctness, just 70 percent of those who make more than
$100,000 are skeptical about it. And while 87 percent who have never
attended college think that political correctness has grown to be a
problem, only 66 percent of those with a postgraduate degree share that
Political tribe—as defined by the authors—is an even better predictor of
views on political correctness. Among devoted conservatives, 97 percent
believe that political correctness is a problem. Among traditional
liberals, 61 percent do. Progressive activists are the only group that
strongly backs political correctness: Only 30 percent see it as a problem.
Read: The threat of tribalism
So what does this group look like? Compared with the rest of the
(nationally representative) polling sample, progressive activists are
much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly
twice as likely as the average to make more than $100,000 a year. They
are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree. And
while 12 percent of the overall sample in the study is African American,
only 3 percent of progressive activists are. With the exception of the
small tribe of devoted conservatives, progressive activists are the most
racially homogeneous group in the country.
One obvious question is what people mean by “political correctness.” In
the extended interviews and focus groups, participants made clear that
they were concerned about their day-to-day ability to express
themselves: They worry that a lack of familiarity with a topic, or an
unthinking word choice, could lead to serious social sanctions for them.
But since the survey question did not define political correctness for
respondents, we cannot be sure what, exactly, the 80 percent of
Americans who regard it as a problem have in mind.
There is, however, plenty of additional support for the idea that the
social views of most Americans are not nearly as neatly divided by age
or race as is commonly believed. According to the Pew Research Center,
for example, only 26 percent of black Americans consider themselves
liberal. And in the More in Common study, nearly half of Latinos argued
that “many people nowadays are too sensitive to how Muslims are
treated,” while two in five African Americans agreed that “immigration
nowadays is bad for America.”
In the days before “Hidden Tribes” was published, I ran a little
experiment on Twitter, asking my followers to guess what percentage of
Americans believe that political correctness is a problem in this
country. The results were striking: Nearly all of my followers
underestimated the extent to which most Americans reject political
correctness. Only 6 percent gave the right answer. (When I asked them
how people of color regard political correctness, their guesses were,
unsurprisingly, even more wildly off.)
Obviously, my followers on Twitter are not a representative sample of
America. But as their largely supportive feelings about political
correctness indicate, they are probably a decent approximation for a
particular intellectual milieu to which I also belong: politically
engaged, highly educated, left-leaning Americans—the kinds of people, in
other words, who are in charge of universities, edit the nation’s most
important newspapers and magazines, and advise Democratic political
candidates on their campaigns.
inRead invented by Teads
So the fact that we are so widely off the mark in our perception of how
most people feel about political correctness should probably also make
us rethink some of our other basic assumptions about the country.
It is obvious that certain elements on the right mock instances in which
political correctness goes awry in order to win the license to spew
outright racial hatred. And it is understandable that, in the eyes of
some progressives, this makes anybody who dares to criticize political
correctness a witting tool of—or a useful idiot for—the right. But
that’s not fair to the Americans who feel deeply alienated by woke
culture. Indeed, 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.
The study should also make progressives more self-critical about the way
in which speech norms serve as a marker of social distinction. I don’t
doubt the sincerity of the affluent and highly educated people who call
others out if they use “problematic” terms or perpetrate an act of
“cultural appropriation.” But what the vast majority of Americans seem
to see—at least according to the research conducted for “Hidden
Tribes”—is not so much genuine concern for social justice as the
preening display of cultural superiority.
David Frum: Every culture appropriates
For the millions upon millions of Americans of all ages and all races
who do not follow politics with rapt attention, and who are much more
worried about paying their rent than about debating the prom dress worn
by a teenager in Utah, contemporary callout culture merely looks like an
excuse to mock the values or ignorance of others. As one 57- year-old
woman in Mississippi fretted:
The way you have to term everything just right. And if you don’t term it
right you discriminate them. It’s like everybody is going to be in the
know of what people call themselves now and some of us just don’t know.
But if you don’t know then there is something seriously wrong with you.
The gap between the progressive perception and the reality of public
views on this issue could do damage to the institutions that the woke
elite collectively run. A publication whose editors think they represent
the views of a majority of Americans when they actually speak to a small
minority of the country may eventually see its influence wane and its
readership decline. And a political candidate who believes she is
speaking for half of the population when she is actually voicing the
opinions of one-fifth is likely to lose the next election.
In a democracy, it is difficult to win fellow citizens over to your own
side, or to build public support to remedy injustices that remain all
too real, when you fundamentally misunderstand how they see the world.
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