Sunday, March 02, 2014

Political correctness

Dorothy Healey, in California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990, U. of Illinois Press):

However, with the white chauvinism campaign of 1949-1953, what had been a legitimate concern turned into an obsession, a ritual act of self-purification that did nothing to strengthen the Party in its fight against racism and was manipulated by some Communist leaders for ends which had nothing to do with the ostensible purpose of the whole campaign. Once an accusation of white chauvinism was thrown against a white Communist, there was no defense. Debate was over. By the very act of denying the validity of the charge, you only proved your own guilt. Thousands of people were caught up in this campaign--not only in the Party itself, but within the Progressive Party and some of the Left unions as well. In Los Angeles alone we must have expelled two hundred people on charges of white chauvinism, usually on the most trivial of pretexts. People would be expelled for serving coffee in a chipped coffee cup to a Black or serving watermelon at the end of dinner.
Healey was eventually accused of "white chauvinism" herself. She gave in to the charge because she thought the whole thing was a farce and this would end her involvement. But then she was ordered to sign a written public statement, which was used against her in her later dealings with the Party.

She writes:
Because it was almost impossible to criticize a Black leader, the Party suffered and I think the Black leaders themselves suffered...When Blacks were spared this [criticism], it wasn't doing them any favor...when you have the notion that only Blacks can lead or that you must uncritically accept Black leadership without any standards, then you get reverse application of what you were fighting for.
Joseph R. Starobin was the American foreign editor of The Daily Worker. In his book, American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1947 (U. of California Press, 1975), he described the campaign against "white chauvinism" as a "witch hunt" and that it was used to "settle [personal] scores". Words like "whitewash" and "black sheep" were considered racist.
Doris Lessing, Language and the Lunatic Fringe (NY Times, June 26, 1992):
Yes, I know the obfuscations of academia did not begin with Communism -- as Swift, for one, tells us -- but the pedantries and verbosity of Communism had its root in German academia. And now it has become a kind of mildew blighting the whole world. [...]  
Raising Consciousness, like Commitment, like Political Correctness, is a continuation of that old bully, the Party Line. [...]
The demand that stories must be 'about' something is from Communist thinking and, further back, from religious thinking, with its desire for self-improvement books as simple-minded as the messages on samplers.  The phrase Political Correctness was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism  has been handed on to the Political Correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.
Dalton Trumbo was severely criticized for "white chauvinism". One of his sins was describing a Negro boy in one of his writings as "polished and dressed in his very best" because this implied he was "clean only on special occasions"! See Ron and Allis Radosh's "Red Star Over Hollywood". You can use Amazon's "search inside".
Here's another excerpt from that book. Herbert Biberman was a Hollywood screenwriter, one of the Hollywood Ten. He had gone to New York to consult leading "Negro cultural workers" there about films the Communists were planning. They told him (Biberman wrote in a letter) that they
"were too busy and occupied to spend an instant dealing with people who were so misinformed as to still consider that they were being 'broad-minded' in consulting  Negro cultural leaders as 'experts' on Negro material" that was developed by "lily-white artists for the good of the Negro people." White artists could join with them, he reported, but they would have to admit that "they needed the Negro People more than the Negro people needed them."
With each sentence, Biberman sounded more and more agitated. What he had learned from his experience in New York, he wrote, was "soul-shaking, land-shaking, country-shaking." He learned about "the poison of chauvinism" and how it was deeply embedded even in people like themselves. ... After talking with the New York African-American cultural leaders, Biberman decided that all their films—including those they thought were favorable to the fight for civil rights—were in reality patronizing and racist.

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