A left-wing critique of political correctness

Paul Street

Paul Street

Paul Street, a smart, marginally-employed left-wing writer, wrote a good article for Counterpunch on why people like him oppose so-called “political correctness.”

He gave a number of examples, but I’ll just quote one of them.

… I have started to become at least mildly irritated by the ever-increasing number of Chinese university students in Iowa City at and around the University of Iowa.  Why?  Because of racism and nativism.  No. Not at all.  It has nothing to do with racism or nativism.  I’m anti-racist and anti-nativist.

It’s about class, politics, and the ever-skyrocketing cost of college tuition in the United States. The young Chinese showing up all over campus town America are very disproportionately from the upper slices of mainland Chinese society. Their parents have accumulated enough wealth and income to send their only children to college overseas and often in very high style.

This wealth is culled from the massive state-capitalist super-exploitation of a giant Chinese working class that has been forced into a vast industrial complex of global capitalist production.

That is the source of the money that is passed on to the privileged class progeny of Chinese “Communist” Party elites who can be seen driving around in BMWs and living in pricey condominium apartments in Iowa City, Iowa, Madison, Wisconsin, and countless other U.S. university communities today.

Consistent with that class reality, many if not most of the Chinese students in question are remarkably self-absorbed, deeply conservative, and business-oriented.  [snip].

A Korean-American professor I know has relayed to me a disturbing report from a friend of hers who teaches Chinese literature at the University of Iowa.

The privileged Chinese students there don’t want to hear, read, or say anything about the horrible Tiananmen Square killings of 1989 or the overall problems of class exploitation, skyrocketing inequality and authoritarian (if not totalitarian) politics and state dictatorship in “communist” China today. 

They want to get rich and return to rise up into the Chinese elite – to look down their noses at the great mass of Chinese toilers.

And to make matters worse, all the money these students’ affluent parents are sending over to U.S. colleges and universities (and to U.S. campus-town real estate developers, auto dealers, and restaurant and Bubble Tea shop-owners) is part of how and why American working-class kids are being priced out of higher education.

These privileged Chinese kids are not my cup of tea.  But it has nothing to with them being Chinese.  It’s about them being rich kids.  I don’t like privileged brats of any race or ethnicity, white Americans and Europeans included ….

Even if you don’t share Street’s Marxist perspective, I think you can see what he’s getting at.  What he describes is part of the neoliberal philosophy, which regards economic incentives as the only good.  Higher education, in this view, is not to raise the general level of culture and knowledge, but to sell a educational credential based on its monetary value.

What really matters about a leader, as he points out, is not the leader’s race, ancestry or gender, but whose interests the leader serves.

Does a white male university custodian sneer with disgust as two young Chinese students pull up to a local gas station and convenience shop in a $125,000 Maserati because he’s a racist and a nativist?  Maybe.  Could be.  It’s entirely possible.

Or maybe not. Maybe he’s just fed up with privileged people, their conspicuously and narcissistically displayed wealth, and the extreme level of economic class inequality that is now so nauseatingly evident in New Gilded Age America.

Perhaps it’s little bit of both: backward-looking nativism and racism alongside progressive-leaning working class consciousness, both tendencies co-existing (imagine) at one and the same time.

One thing that is clear to me is that one of the quickest ways for a middle-class progressive, liberal, or leftist to turn that working class white person into a Donald Trump supporter and FOX News fan is to instantly denounce that custodian’s sneer as being about nothing other or more than racism and nativism.

That’s one of the key ways in which contemporary politically correct U.S. (neo) liberalism turns right-wing white nationalist populism into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Street gives other examples, too, including how immigration from low-wage countries is used to keep American wages down, and how people who raise that issue are accused of being nativist or racist.

I recognize that, for some people, proclaiming that they’re “politically incorrect” is a way of pre-empting criticism for being rude, offensive or cruel.  In that context, political correctness is simply common courtesy or common decency.  I’m not using the word that way in this post, and neither is Paul Street in his article.


Political Correctness: Handle With Care by Paul Street for Counterpunch.  The whole thing is well worth reading.

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