In a time where “political correctness” is constantly debated, it’s interesting to see how that affects dynamics within marginalized communities. There are all types of actions and rhetoric that create an “us and them” vibe between people with the same identities. They try to distance themselves from a subset of the same community sometimes because they are afraid of how they will be viewed by others. A common example is how some women distance themselves from labeling themselves as feminists. The word often has a negative connotation because feminists are just seen as annoying, angry women who cannot let anything go. This makes it hard for people to identify with the term because they are afraid of the association.
There is a similar situation in many other communities, including communities of color, as we try to distance ourselves from stereotypes or any kind of negative view by society. Whenever I witness something like this, I’m just left feeling confused and not really sure how to respond. I feel a different kind of pain than when a white person shares their opinion on a lifestyle or political engagement of people of color. I expect that, but I don’t ever really expect the critique and tone policing from other people of color. It causes harm within our communities as well as allows those with privilege to remain superior.”
These sentiments are not always due to politics, but are strongly related. Recently, I was talking to a family member about the Latinx community at Cornell and some of the difficulty we sometimes have when communicating. They completely misunderstood what I was saying and went on to describe how it is sometimes difficult to relate to other Latinx people because “we’re not like them.” My relative explained that by saying we, as in they and I, did not grow up with pictures of J-Lo on our walls and how they hated reggaeton. Apparently we were different from the majority of Latinx people because we enjoyed reading classical literature and liked listening to alternative music. I was really uncomfortable as they said this because it wasn’t just discounting those who shared our identity, but they was also assuming a lot about me that he didn’t know.
To them, it seemed like we were better than other Latinx people because we were more intellectual and “cultured” than the stereotypical Latinx person. They somehow managed to otherize our own community by making that distinction and making it seem like we were better for straying away from aspects of our culture. This isn’t an okay mentality to have because it divides our own community by trying to make it seem like we’re different. I mean, I’m an English major and I actually hate classic literature but I love reggaeton, so does that change their view of me? Do I suddenly become one of those Latinas? Some pride themselves on how different they are from a good portion of their community without realizing it’s another way to separate and pit us against each other. One type is regarded more highly than the other in society because one meets the standards for “good” person of color that the United States has created. Speaking in that fashion just adds to the idea that we are only accepted by others if we act a particular way.
A similar concern for many people of marginalized identities is that they are being “too politically correct.” One of the most common phrases used towards people who critique something they find inappropriate or uncomfortable is “why can’t you take a joke?” People fail to realize that these “jokes” are indicative of bigger issues. Having a person of color say that another person of color is taking something too seriously is feeding into the same disparity that harms them, which is why it always confuses me to witness those types of incidents. Like the previous example, they are going against those in their own community while simultaneously acting in a way that instills certain standards for people of color. Distancing yourself from those who are “too politically correct” does not make you any better than us or make you any less affected by racism. If a fellow person of color finds something wrong and chooses to voice that, it is probably for the best to fully consider what they’re saying before completely denouncing them.
Ultimately, it’s really hard for me to be critical of other people of color, even when we disagree. I know that I want to provide support and educate them more than I want to be angry about whatever they said or did. Like I said before, it’s not the same as if a white person does it because these are people from either my own Latinx community or the greater community of people of color. Arguing and distancing ourselves from each other is just another example of how systems can manipulate us into trying to act a certain way.
Sarah Zumba is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Zumba Works it Out appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.