Are You an Uneducated Bigot for Disliking Political Correctness?

Despite its roots on the left of politics and as an ironic term to highlight racist and sexist attitudes, ‘political correctness’ was hijacked in the 1990s by the political right wing in the US and successfully used to discredit movements that objected to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Reframing them as hypersensitive do-gooders tapped into everybody’s fear of being an uptight whiner that frankly, no one likes.

Perhaps in some situations it is possible that we are going too far, but for the most part, I agree with Polly Toynbee that  “the phrase is an empty, right-wing smear, designed only to elevate its user” and “was born as a coded cover for all who still want to say, Paki, spastic or queer…” Thus complainers of political correctness might easily be reframed as uneducated bigots.

So where is the line between hypersensitive whiners and bigotry? The answer lies in getting educated about matters of inequality. Thus here is a short introduction to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination to help you on your journey.

Stereotyping. Black athletes are superior; women are more nurturing than men; and white people have the highest IQs. We love to categorise people and put them in boxes; we do this, particularly, through subtle use of language and imagery. It helps us make sense of a world with a potentially overwhelming array of social stimuli. But in doing so, we de-emphasise uniqueness and plant seeds for prejudice and discrimination. This is primarily because of our reliance on generalisations, which are often inaccurate or do not apply to the individual group member.

Not all women are nurturing; not all black athletes win races; and not all white people are intelligent. Furthermore, we may be attributing an incorrect causality to being a member of the group, particularly the biological superiority of one group over another. For example, it is not that being born white makes for a higher IQ, rather white people tend to have higher IQs by virtue of test biases that enable people from a “white culture” to perform better.

Prejudice. You are a man; therefore, you are not nurturing. Here we take a stereotype and apply it to someone without knowing who they uniquely are. We PRE-JUDGE them. Often this happens unconsciously.

For example, when I was a junior pilot, I was sent to a joint Army and Air Force exercise to staff the operations desk. One day whilst my boss was gone, the General and his entourage came by, “Flying Officer, what do you do?” he asked me. “I’m a pilot”, I replied. “Oh, a pilot! What do you fly?”, he said with a slight look of astonishment on his face. “C-130s, sir”, I replied. “Wow, how does a little thing like you fly a big thing like that?” revealing his stereotypes and prejudices in one simple question. “Hydraulics, sir.” I replied.

How to avoid bigotry

Discrimination. You won’t get promoted because you are not smart enough (meaning white or manly or other prejudices and not actually related to the promotion criteria). Discrimination is formed from prejudice. It happens on an individual level and a systemic level.

For example, a business owner who refuses to hire non-whites due to prejudice is engaging in individual discrimination. But an organisation or sector that privileges white people, and therefore their employment and promotion opportunities (often revealed by demographic/diversity statistics) is engaging in systemic discrimination. Systemic discrimination can be the hardest to notice because it may not be deliberate and requires the difficult question, ‘what is it about our culture that prevents [women, indigenous, or other disadvantaged groups] from being promoted?’

It is important to note here that a key way to identify if something is reverse discrimination or not, is to ask whether the policy stems from prejudice. For example, a policy that gives indigenous members access to specialised leadership training is not reverse discrimination if it is a response to a lack of indigenous people in leadership positions. Similarly if the predominant culture is white, different learning and cultural framing may need to take place to give these members the same opportunities as those in the predominant culture and therefore is not reverse discrimination.

With these ideas in mind, we can see how stereotypes lie at the root of prejudice and discrimination. Therefore, if we want to be appreciated as unique individuals and not placed in a box called ‘prejudice’ which then unnecessarily restricts our options in life, then do unto others as you wish to be done unto yourself. It is hard not to categorise everything around us but that doesn’t take away our responsibility to be mindful of how we might be contributing to prejudice and advancing the cause of uneducated bigotry through language that reinforces stereotypes.

The problem with being promoted on ‘merit’

“Homo WHAT reproduction?”, asks a friend of mine wondering why I would think that sexual orientation and children lead to inequality regimes and discrimination.
“No, homoSOCIAL reproduction” I reply.

It’s a common mistake because so few people have even heard of homosocial reproduction, or the tendency for people to promote others who are like themselves. But given that issues of inequity are still rife, as evidenced by a lack of diversity (race, gender, class etc) in the top management teams of many organisations, and given that sometimes the biggest opponents of measures to improve equality are people from the oppressed group (e.g. the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Movement claiming that giving women the right to vote was a dangerous experiment), I feel the need to shout this from the roof tops:


According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, there are three main reasons why this can occur.

  • Uncertainty and the need for trust
  • Ease of communication
  • Difficulties in measuring managerial performance

Managers have to deal with a lot of ambiguity in their roles and that means that we like to promote people who will make good decisions. This means that we need to trust them and perhaps see eye to eye (noting however, that diversity of thought usually leads to better performance outcomes). Thus, the further you rise up the managerial chain, the more ambiguous our roles become and the more subjective ‘merit’ is especially when you consider the effects of teams on individual performance. Instead our mental template of what constitutes a ‘great’ leader takes over and ‘objective’ outcomes are often hindered by the unconscious biases that are lying deep within our psyche. This means that unless we are specifically looking for it, we might end up promoting someone who is like ourselves and/or the dominant culture, rather than someone who might bring diversity of thought to the team and lead using a different, but equally effective, style.

Why 'merit' is subjective

When managerial performance is reduced to ‘climbing trees’, the monkey wins every time.

Noting that I have often worked in male dominated environments, some of the best leaders I knew did not meet the requirements of the ‘boys club’ because they stood by their ethics and authenticity. Despite being excellent leaders with great communication, empathy and team performance results, they found themselves trapped by a glass ceiling because they perhaps did not ‘tick the social box’, be that a beer drinking ‘lad’, a ‘heroic’ leader who is going to swoop in and save the day (as opposed to a facilitative leader who inspires the team to save the day), or some other shallow template of trustworthiness.

So what can we do to help overcome the inequity that results from homosocial reproduction?

  • First of all, be AWARE that it exists
  • Secondly, recognise that ‘merit’ is highly subjective when it comes to managerial team performance, and like a good sports team, you don’t just choose the top players, rather you choose a diverse and talented group that through synergy become a top TEAM
  • Thirdly, support quotas, diversity metrics and HR policies that seek to dismantle the inherent inequality and unconscious bias that exists within organisational systems
  • Finally, come to understand yourself. Test your unconscious bias using the Harvard Implicit Association Test at You might be as surprised by the results as I was!

Which Side are You On? Moving Beyond Gender Wars

In recent times I’ve noticed a lot of people using ‘feminist’ as a derogatory slur. This is somewhat perplexing because as John Scalzi points out in his blog post ‘To the Dude bro that thinks he’s insulting me by calling me a feminist’, a feminist is someone who thinks that women deserve the same rights and opportunities as men.

Why doesn’t everybody want this? Did I miss something? Are these men and women who use ‘feminist’ as a slur, scholars of philosophy who have realised how the limitations of social constructionism and post-structural thought impact modern day feminism? Or have they been listening to a bit too much Rush Limbaugh and Alan Jones, who are deathly afraid that women are going to ‘Destroy the Joint’ by booting men off the ladder and relegating them to the lowly rank of… well… many women (and non-whites, and non-Christians, and non-hetrosexuals etc)?

I propose that the issue is one of mismatching paradigms. When we talk of patriarchy, it refers to the vertical system of a dominating pecking order that is traditionally led by men. When we refer to feminist ideals, it does not seek to dismantle the pecking order so as to establish a new one with women at the top. Rather, it has a horizontal outlook and takes issue with the whole idea of a pecking order, which happens to be quite problematic for many men too. Namely the men at the bottom of it.

Subordinated cooperation in a nutshell

Subordinated cooperation in a nutshell

Interestingly enough, these two ways of thinking even end up in the language differences in little boys and little girls. Deborah Tannen undertook numerous linguistic studies and found that generally speaking, little girls in the USA bond through being the same and telling each other their secrets (I have a dog, too!), while little boys bond by bettering each other (I can hit the ball to the moon!). But we also isolate each other through similar means. Women will hurt each other through exclusion, and men through putting each other down. From this stand point, it makes sense that many men, who only really know the pecking order paradigm, are deathly afraid of being kicked off their perch or put down by women. Similarly, many women are afraid, I think, of excluding or feeling separate from the men in their lives. They don’t necessarily realise that feminism has a different agenda: to create a round table.

Aside from the underlying paradigm mismatch, words such as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ seem to further confuse matters. If I am a woman with stereotypical ‘masculine’ traits (decisiveness, rationality, objectivity, etc) should I be insulted? Or should men with stereotypical ‘feminine’ traits (generous, nurturing, cooperative, etc) be insulted? Does ‘feminism’ mean that we can only embrace our feminine selves at the expense of masculinity? Or should we be embracing both our masculine and feminine selves no matter our gender?

Whatever your answers, I propose that feminism needs to adopt a non-gendered frame that enables greater solidarity and understanding of the injustices at hand. Specifically, the frame of subordinated cooperation and coordinated cooperation, as described by Indian mystic and philosopher, P.R. Sarkar. This lens transcends the limitations of gender based language and instead focuses on the nature of the harmful power structures at play, particularly how we treat one another. Furthermore, it offers a new way of understanding other power related issues such as racial equality, workers’ rights (and responsibilities), prejudice and systemic privilege.

Subordinated cooperation is based on a master-slave relationship while coordinated cooperation is when two different entities come together to work with equal rights, prestige and standing. Of course, this is not to say that hierarchy is necessarily bad. We can have a hierarchy that works from a base of coordinated cooperation whereby a supervisor may treat a subordinate with dignity and respect as they work towards common organisational goals and fulfill their potential. It is not the structure as much as the relationships and capacity to fulfill one’s potential that are important here. I may have more skills or a greater intellect than you, but that does not necessarily make me a better human being. And if we get back to the basics of human experience and what you might wish for on your death bed, I would go so far as to say that what matters most is the radius of your love, not where you stand in some socially constructed pecking order or, perhaps, your contribution to economic slavery.

Thus, IMHO the women’s liberation movement (and every other liberation movement for that matter) needs to adopt an articulated goal of coordinated cooperation. This is where despite our differences (remembering that diversity is the law of nature), we are working towards a common goal in a way that not only values the different contributions that we make, but also our capacity to fulfill our potential individually and collectively.

Do we as individuals treat each other with coordinated cooperation? And do our systems treat each other with coordinated cooperation, or do they privilege one group over another? Whatever the answer and however you want to slice our population, a society that confines the development of various groups in relation to others is like a bird with one wing. It can’t take off and reach its potential. So, which side are you on? Coordinated cooperation or subordinated cooperation?