In the aftermath of the presidential election, the “N” word (a vicious reference to African-American human beings) is making a public comeback. In a Nov. 14 essay, the online journal, Fusion, documented multiple N-word postings, many related to schools, including Spring Lake High School in Spring Lake, Minn.; the University of Pennsylvania; on the car of a University of Tennessee football player; and at Reed College in Oregon.
There’s more. Election week, in Kernersville, N.C., 15 miles from where we live, Judy and Teena Willard, a lesbian couple, received a note in their mailbox that read (without punctuation): “you lesbian bitches you are sick get out of our neighborhood Trump train.” The couple, who’ve been together 29 years and were married four years ago, are parents of a high school student. They’ve occupied their neighborhood for 10 years. “I’ve been a lesbian all my life,” Judy Willard told the Winston-Salem Journal, “and I get tired of being afraid.” The Willards are members of Wake Forest Baptist Church that gathers each Sunday in Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University, founded by Baptists in 1834.
In Waco, Texas, a sophomore woman named Natasha Nkhama, on her way to class, was pushed off the sidewalk by a male student who told her, “no n—–s allowed on the sidewalk.” Challenged by yet another student, the perpetrator responded: “I’m just trying to make American great again.” The Washington Post reports that “nearly 300 people” showed up the next day to walk Ms. Nkhama to class. Baylor University was founded by Baptists in 1845.
There’s more. In several incidents, Trump supporters have been attacked and beaten, while multiple postings of “Rape Melania” signs have appeared on social media and at anti-Trump protests. In West Virginia, the director of the Clay County Development Corp. wrote to her mayor that she was pleased to have another First Lady since “I am tired of seeing a [sic] Ape in heels.” The mayor, also female, wrote back, “You made my day ….” When confronted the woman noted: “Those who know me know I’m not of [sic] any way racist.” Both women have resigned their positions.
There’s more. As these accounts proliferate, the FBI reports that during the last year hate crimes have intensified dramatically, particularly against Muslim Americans, transgender people, African Americans, and Jews. Blacks are victims of the most racial attacks, while Jews are the most frequent objects of religion-related incidents. As 2016 ends, hate is breaking out all over in the land of the free and the home of the scared.
In this election year, the phrase “political correctness” has taken a considerable beating in the public square and social media. Even Google’s lead definition reflects the controversy, noting that political correctness involves “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult those who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” Online and in various political contexts, “PC” is often ridiculed as a sign of a) snobbishness b) speech control c) dishonesty d) class warfare e) weakness f) excessive verbal policing g) silliness h) all of the above.
In an essay in the Huffington Post, Steve Nelson of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, writes: “Every example of so-called ‘political correctness’ is a case where a small, usually disenfranchised, minority seeks temporary refuge from the dominance of the majority. They seek refuge in the dignity of the names they’d like to be called.” Nelson suggests that instead of debating the term, “why don’t we pursue ‘political correction’ and ameliorate the social conditions that drive women, people of color and gay folks to seek ‘safe spaces?’”
Amid increasing hate crimes and speech, what if the rejection of “political correctness” actually masks a deeper void, a way of evading human compassion, particularly for those who are different from ourselves or whose lives don’t fit our definition of “normative?” Words that ridicule, dehumanize, caricature, or debase persons because of race, class, gender, sexuality, or special needs, “other” the perpetrator and the victim alike. They have no place in our shared humanity.
These days, we are truly a nation divisible, with inequities aplenty. But whatever our ideological and political differences, we must unite in a shared protest against hate, whether in the culture or our own hearts. Whatever our doctrinal/ethical disputes, as religious, specifically Christian, people, we must not be silent when the voices of hatred and violence, lurking just below the surface of our allegedly open, pluralistic society, are unleashed. We must recommit ourselves to compassionate correctness, speaking and working against hate-filled diatribes and actions, particularly in our own communities. If we fail to do so, we will share responsibility when the language of hatred generates new carnage or when the lynching begins again.
With Advent upon us, perhaps all Christian communions can venture across the lines that separate us and find ways, in Word and Sacrament, to reassert compassion, repudiate hatred, and reclaim the gospel mandate that “when you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” Jesus said that; and he meant it. We do, too.