Prejudice, “Political Correctness,” and the Normalization of Donald Trump

Julia Serano
23 min readNov 22, 2016
Photo by Ernie Bowen, from the State Library of New South Wales, courtesy of Flickr: The Commons

Over the last few years, commentators from across the political spectrum have penned article after article warning us about the latest rise of “political correctness” gone too far. So unsurprisingly, in the wake of the most shocking U.S. presidential election outcome in recent history, many pundits have decided to place the blame, not on the horribly blundered mainstream media election coverage, nor the millions of people who actually cast their votes for Donald Trump, but rather on activists on the left who have pushed too fiercely for “identity politics” or “political correctness.” Their thesis (whether stated explicitly or implicitly) is that if Democrats simply ditch all this “political correctness” nonsense, then they can win back many of those voters.

And frankly, I cannot think of a worse possible takeaway message from this election.

I am not saying this because I am pro-“political correctness” per se. While I am an activist on the political left, I have written extensively (see here and here for starters) about how activist movements can sometimes “go too far,” or cause more harm than good. No, my beef with virtually all anti-PC tirades that originate in the political center or left is that they clearly have not given much (if any!) thought about what “political correctness” actually is. And this lack of consideration seems to stem from an extremely naive understanding of how prejudice works and how activist movements successfully counter it.

With the goal of generating more light than heat, here is my attempt to explain why “political correctness” is a misleading way to frame these matters, and why abandoning “political correctness” (or embracing “political incorrectness”) would be the absolute worst possible response given the recent election of Donald Trump.

(Note: some have centered their critiques on “identity politics” rather than “political correctness,” although they are essentially making the same case; I specifically address the anti-“identity politics” take in the final section.)

Prejudice is a spectrum

Many people seem to be under the misconception that prejudice is an all-or-none thing: a person either possesses prejudice toward a particular group or they do not. This faulty logic is evident in the political reporters who dismissed racism as a factor in the election results because Trump picked up many former Obama voters (in other words, these voters couldn’t possibly be racist because they once voted for a black man). Similarly, when Trump is confronted with the many misogynistic comments he’s made over the years, he always replies, “I love women,” or points to women he has hired in the past, as if these things provide incontrovertible evidence that he does not have a sexist bone in his body.

But this is simply not how prejudice works. Rather than an all-or-none mindset, prejudice is better described as a spectrum, perhaps something resembling this:

On the far right side of this spectrum, we have people who are fully accepted — these are typically the people who constitute the dominant or majority group(s) in the culture. They are seen as the norm, and their identities are unquestioned and taken for granted.

At the other end of this spectrum are people who are fully stigmatized: They are considered to be abominable, immoral, and/or outright inhuman. Individuals who are stigmatized to this extreme degree may be openly ridiculed, disparaged, rejected, and perhaps even criminalized in the culture, and those who inflict or enable this abuse will probably not feel any guilt or remorse because, in their eyes, the stigmatized individuals “had it coming to them.”

But there are various predicaments that exist in between being fully stigmatized and fully accepted. Here, I will describe these in terms of three “stages of acceptance” that can exist in the minds of people in the dominant majority. (Note: these stages aren’t necessarily completely discrete, and there may be even finer gradations, but this particular scheme is sufficient to illustrate the main points that I wish to make.)

The first stage of acceptance occurs when people learn to “tolerate” a marginalized or minority group that had previously been fully stigmatized. People in this first stage have begun to see the group (or at least “the good ones”) as human beings rather than monsters, and they will likely see themselves as being good and progressive people for extending basic common decency to this stigmatized population. While people in this stage acknowledge the group’s humanity, they most certainly do not consider the group to be their “equals.” And while they may feel that the abuses the group suffers are unfair, they tend not to protest (or at least not too loudly), nor are they inclined to cast aspersions on those who condemn or mistreat the group.

Eventually, a second stage of acceptance may be reached, one in which people come to view the stigmatized group as not merely “tolerable,” but as “legitimate.” Those who have reached this second stage are likely to support “equal rights” for the group, such as efforts to change institutional policies or laws to allow the group to access realms of possibility that were once reserved only for the fully accepted. Such efforts may also include anti-discrimination policies designed to protect the group from having to deal with such obstacles and abuses within public settings. Indeed, a hallmark of this second stage is that explicit acts of discrimination against the group will be looked upon negatively (and may even be considered downright immoral), and those who continue to openly discriminate against the group may now face a social price for doing so.

There remains a third stage of acceptance, one that acknowledges that conscious calls for equality are insufficient, as prejudice often occurs on an unconscious level and may manifest in more subtle ways — for instance, through language, stereotypes, double standards, and systemic biases. Because these biases are virtually invisible to the dominant majority (who have the privilege of not having to deal with them directly), those who reach the third stage will recognize the minority/marginalized group as the only true experts of their own circumstances, and they will take active steps to understand the group’s perspectives and support them on their issues.

So those are the three (admittedly rough) stages of acceptance. It must be stressed that marginalized/minority groups do not neatly advance from one stage of acceptance to another. Rather, societies are usually comprised of people spanning these various stages simultaneously. To illustrate this, here is an example from my own life: I am transgender, a population that in the not so distant past (e.g., when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s) primarily existed in the fully stigmatized category. After many decades of transgender activism, we have convinced many people to move into the first stage of acceptance — many now tolerate our existence and believe that we should be treated humanely, although they nevertheless view us as inferior to the cisgender majority. Despite this progress, there are still plenty of people who fully stigmatize us (e.g., conservatives who explicitly attempt to criminalize us via “bathroom bills” or eliminate us via conversion therapies). At the same time, increasing numbers of people now view us as legitimate (i.e., second stage of acceptance) as seen in the inclusion of gender identity and expression as protected categories in anti-discrimination policies in more progressive jurisdictions and institutions. And in a few settings (e.g., within activist circles I often inhabit), I will come across individuals who have reached the third stage of acceptance with regards to trans people — e.g., they will acknowledge their cisgender privilege, and advocate on behalf of trans people.

How does activism work?

So how do marginalized and minority groups make such progress? How do they convince the general population to relinquish their prejudice and embrace increasing acceptance? Well, they do it by gradually changing social norms. Every culture has countless (often unspoken) social norms that govern our behaviors and shape our view of the world. Social norms are what determine whether a behavior or circumstance is expected or shocking, mundane or outrageous. As a general rule, acts that transgress social norms are viewed negatively and often result in social sanctions or punishment of some sort.

As an example, there are many social norms that govern how we are supposed to speak to strangers or acquaintances in public settings: We are expected to be cordial and non-confrontational (provided, of course, that the person in question is not stigmatized in some way). If you and I were to meet, and if (rather than saying “hello” and engaging in polite small talk with you) I were to call you a nasty name or try to pick a fight with you, observers will no doubt view me as malicious or hostile. And in certain institutional settings (e.g., a school or workplace), I’d likely be suspended or fired for transgressing social norms in that manner.

While social norms are pervasive, they are not set in stone. These norms will differ from culture to culture, and may evolve over time within a given society. This is where activist movements come in: They work to change the social norms related to prejudice and discrimination, specifically by pushing these norms away from stigmatization and toward acceptance for the minority/marginalized group(s) in question.

For example, the move from fully stigmatized to the first stage of acceptance clearly requires us to eliminate a pre-existing social norm — e.g., (from my previous example) the norm that asserts that transgender people are bad and should not be tolerated. And the move from the first to second stage of acceptance requires the establishment of a brand new social norm — e.g., a norm that asserts that explicit expressions of transphobia are bad and should not be tolerated. As we move into the third stage of acceptance, more subtle expressions of prejudice may also be deemed unacceptable (e.g., using particular language, perpetuating certain stereotypes). Additionally, new norms may be created with the intention of making society more accessible to, or accommodating of, the minority/marginalized group — examples of such relatively new norms (which are often focal points in current debates about “political correctness”) include adopting trigger/content warnings, or asking people their preferred pronouns.

So how do activists accomplish changing these social norms? Well, there are a number of ways, although they tend to fall into one of two camps. There are “soft appeals,” in which the activist makes a thoughtful, well-reasoned case on behalf of the group, or in which members of the group demonstrate (through their everyday actions) that they are non-threatening, competent, moral, etc., and thus deserving of acceptance. In a perfect world, soft appeals would be sufficient to bring about increasing acceptance, but unfortunately there is one big problem: Soft appeals only work if members of the dominant majority are open to changing their minds. Some are, of course, but many others are stubbornly resistant to relinquishing their prejudice. And still other people (who personally identify as “more evolved” on the issue) may nevertheless continue to tolerate the bigoted behavior of others. In these latter cases, “hard appeals” may be necessary — this could include “calling out” the person in question (in either a public or private fashion) or, in the case of institutions, staging a public act (e.g., a protest, boycott, sit-in, and so on) to garner attention for the issue and to put pressure on the organization to change its ways.

Activists will often disagree amongst themselves regarding which strategy is best in any given situation. But the one thing that virtually all activists agree upon is that, in some instances, hard appeals are necessary in order to overcome steadfast resistance. And every single successful social justice movement has had to resort to hard appeals at some point or another in the past.

What is “political correctness”?

Defining “political correctness” is a lot like defining “obscenity” — people usually rely on an “I know it when I see it”-type mentality. This leads to the term being used in vague and wildly inconsistent ways. For instance, someone who dismisses trigger warnings or gender-neutral pronouns as political-correctness-run-amok may nevertheless feel that it is appropriate to call adult single women Ms. rather than Miss, or to avoid words like “crippled” and “retard” because they are degrading to people with disabilities. And yet another person may claim that terms like “Ms.” or “people with disabilities” also constitute examples of political-correctness-run-amok. In fact, if you believe that we as a society have made substantial progress on social justice issues over the last fifty years, then I’ll bet you that you are in favor of *some* social norms aimed at reducing discrimination that others would dismiss as mere “political correctness.”

In order to have a dialogue about “political correctness,” we need a working definition that accommodates the myriad ways in which it is used. Based upon everything I’ve outlined so far, here is what I have come up with:

Political correctness (noun): a pejorative term that may be applied to any attempt to promote or enforce social norms (specifically those norms aimed at reducing stigma or increasing the acceptance of some minority/marginalized group) that the person uttering the phrase considers to be confusing, ridiculous, unnecessary, and/or inconvenient.

To put it another way, “political correctness” is not an ideology, nor is it a specific set of behaviors. It is simply a slur that people utter when they want to dismiss an expression of social justice activism that they do not like. One person’s “political correctness” is another person’s common decency or righteous activism.

It is also crucial to note that, while many people resent activist attempts to change social norms, we are not the only ones engaged in such actions: Those who harbor prejudices are also constantly trying to assert and/or change social norms, albeit in the opposite direction. And yet, these latter attempts do not face similar scrutiny or smearing. If I promote gender-neutral restrooms or pronouns, I will be dismissed as being “politically correct,” whereas North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (who championed HB2, the law that criminalizes trans people who use public restrooms) is never described as “politically correct” (even though he has clearly engaged in political attempts to enforce a social norm of his own creation). When college students in 2015 tried to protest and no-platform Germaine Greer (an extreme and outspoken transphobe) people called it political-correctness-run-amok, but conservative protesters who attempt to protest and no-platform transgender activists (as happened to me in 2004) are never dismissed as “politically correct.”

This asymmetry, along with its vagueness and inconsistent usage, is why I detest the term “political correctness,” and why I think we should all stop using it. From my vantage point, there are bigots who are pushing for social norms that conform to their beliefs, and social justice activists who are pushing for social norms that conform to our beliefs. And the population at large will have varied opinions about whether any given social norm is worthy or unworthy, advantageous or disadvantageous.

Why are so many people complaining about “political correctness”?

While I believe that “political correctness” provides the wrong framework for these discussions and debates, I do think that it is important to ask why this meme resonates so much with people, especially at this particular point in time.

I’ve seen a number of theories put forward to explain why “political correctness” (i.e., complaints about social justice activism) is/are on the rise these days. This could be a whole article in and of itself — and its one that I plan to write eventually. But in a nutshell, I think there are three main reasons. The first is generational: Younger people tend to be more in favor of expanding social justice and more comfortable with shifting social norms relative to older people (who are more set in their ways). When especially large demographic groups come of age at the same time, it is often accompanied by significant social upheavals — this happened with the baby boomers in the 1960s and 1970s (especially on college campuses), so it shouldn’t be such a surprise that it’s happening now that millennials have come of age. The second reason is the Internet and social media, which is speeding up social upheaval across the board. It used to take a long time for activist concepts and norms to organically spread and catch on in the general population; nowadays, some activist somewhere can write a blogpost or start a hashtag campaign, and by the end of the week the mainstream media may be covering it. The third reason is intersectionality: Within activist circles, it is now acknowledged that different forms of prejudice are all interconnected and can exacerbate one another. So if you’re an activist, it is insufficient to only be concerned with your one personal pet issue (whether it be sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, etc.); instead, you need to be actively engaged in challenging all of these prejudices simultaneously. Recognizing intersectionality is crucial for us to avoid the failures of past “single-issue” social justice movements. But in practice, it can lead to a sharp increase in “call outs” or protests, as all these different (but overlapping) marginalized populations work to support one another.

That is my take on why there has been an increase (or seeming increase) in social justice activism of late. And this increase has in turn led to a corresponding rise in complaints about “political correctness” running amok. As I said, “political correctness” is a vague word that can mean different things to different people, so it is far more useful for us to look at the underlying motivations or rationales that lead people to make this charge. Or to put it another way: When people cry “political correctness,” what is it that they are actually complaining about? After considering this at great length, I have come up with this non-exhaustive list of common reasons behind why people dismiss activist attempts as “political correctness”:

1) Resistance to change in a general sense. People tend to dislike change, especially when it comes to social norms that they take for granted or have grown accustom to. For instance, if I proposed a brand new word or gesture to replace “hello” upon greeting someone, this change would likely seem both needless and inconvenient to most people. Similar knee-jerk reactions are common when new norms promoted by social justice activists are first introduced (even if there is sound reasoning to support the adoption of the new norm).

2) Conviction that the prejudice is valid. If you believe that “God made women and men, and that’s that,” then you may view transgender people as unnatural or immoral. Thus, you will be opposed to any activist attempt to change social norms to tolerate or accommodate transgender people. Similar prejudiced convictions exist for other minority/marginalized groups.

3) Denial of prejudice. When activists promote new social norms — e.g., condemning some particular behavior as discriminatory — the implication is that anyone who has engaged in such acts in the past has (knowingly or unknowingly) contributed to the group’s marginalization. People who are in the various stages of acceptance like to think of themselves as good people who have already overcome the prejudice in question, and thus may be disinclined to accept the possibility that they have engaged (or are engaging) in discriminatory practices. By rejecting the new norm as “unnecessary” or as “going too far,” these individuals can preserve their self-conception as being completely free of prejudice.

4) Resentment of the social sanctions associated with transgression. If a new social norm is established and you transgress it, you will likely be viewed as prejudiced and forced to face the consequences of your actions. Particularly when the transgressive act in question is something that you have done in the past without garnering suspicion or comment, this new social norm will likely feel restrictive, and the negative reactions that you now receive may seem unfair, or perhaps even “oppressive” to you. Such feelings of resentment may even lead you to feel like you are the one who is the target of other people’s prejudice (e.g., the victim of “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism”).

5) Resentment of protected statuses. In acknowledgment of the fact that systemic prejudice and discrimination can have profound negative impacts on minority/marginalized groups, some institutions will establish non-discrimination policies to protect these vulnerable individuals and/or promote their employment or inclusion. Members of the dominant majority who fail to appreciate the seriousness, pervasiveness, and/or ramifications of the prejudice in question may be inclined to view such policies as constituting “special rights” that are offered to others, but denied to them (once again, fostering sentiments of “reverse racism,” “reverse sexism,” etc.)

6) Difficulty navigating new social norms. Since the population is scattered among these various stages of acceptance, there will likely be times when we enter into a space where some or most people adhere to social norms that we are unfamiliar with. As a result, we may face sanctions or scrutiny for our actions, despite the fact that we had no foreknowledge of the norms in question.

7) Resentment of the ferocity or self-righteousness with which norms are enforced. Nobody wants to be called out for transgressing a social norm. This is especially true when the “call out” is delivered with extreme rage (which is bound to happen on occasions when the target of the offense feels especially hurt or injured by the incident) or self-righteousness (e.g., when they act morally superior for knowing about, or adhering to, a norm that you unknowingly transgressed). Such interactions might lead you to detest the norm itself, even if the reasoning behind it is sound.

8) Concerns regarding lack of context. When social norms are enforced especially rigidly and/or social sanctions doled out in an all-or-none fashion, context is completely lost. Just as it would be counterproductive to punish traffic violations with the severity typically reserved for first-degree murder, it would be counterproductive to treat people who make unintentional or relatively minor social norm transgressions as though they are unrepentant bigots.

9) Concerns about the Activist Language Merry-Go-Round. Many activist social norms center on the replacement or elimination of specific words or phrases associated with the minority/marginalized group (due to their real or perceived negative connotations). There may be legitimate concerns about this practice, as I discuss here and here.

10) Concern that the norm does more harm than good. While activist social norms are created and promoted in the hopes of fostering further acceptance of minority/marginalized groups, some of these norms may not be well thought out, and may inadvertently favor some members of the group over others, or negatively impact members of other marginalized groups.

11) Concern that the norm contributes to a reverse discourse. Reverse discourse is my preferred term for activist strategies that attempt to “flip the script” — e.g., insisting that women are good and men are bad; queer people are legitimate and straight people suspect, and so on. The essay that I linked to explains the rationale behind reverse discourses and why they tend to garner momentum despite their many problems (spoiler alert: it’s a “hard appeal” in response to the dominant majority’s intransigence).

While any of these concerns might lead someone to proclaim “political correctness gone too far,” the underlying motivations are radically different. Rationales 1 through 5 are either expressions of outright prejudice or exhibit a lack of concern about discrimination and marginalized populations. In other words, these motives exist in opposition to social justice activism. In contrast, rationales 6 through 11 are not opposed to social justice activism per se, but rather express concerns about how that activism is sometimes carried out. In fact, these latter points are often raised by activists themselves — e.g., I discuss point 10 throughout my book Excluded, and dedicate most of the last chapter of the book to addressing points 6 through 8; my concerns about points 9 and 11 are discussed in essays that I’ve linked to in those passages.

Rather than referring to these latter problems as “political correctness” (which seems to implicate and smear social justice activism more generally), we should instead view them as instances of imperfect activism. I like this turn of phrase because it simultaneously acknowledges that social justice activism is necessary, but also that it is an “inexact science” (in that there will always be different interpretations and disagreements regarding which course of action should be taken).

People who are outright opposed to social justice and civil rights euphemistically use the phrase “political correctness” to denounce any attempt to reduce stigma or increase the acceptance of minority/marginalized groups. Those of us who are pro-social justice and civil rights should reject this term altogether, because when we use it ourselves we provide cover for the unapologetic bigots. If we are troubled by a particular expression of activism, we should clearly and specifically state what those concerns are (e.g., as I did in points 6 through 11) and/or call them something else entirely (e.g., imperfect activism).

“Political incorrectness” in the age of Donald Trump

Lots of people dismiss expressions of activism that they do not like or understand as “political correctness.” But a few people go a step beyond this — they embrace the identity label “politically incorrect.” It should be noted that people who identify with this term are overwhelmingly (albeit not exclusively) white, straight, male, able-bodied, etc. — in other words, they usually do not have anything to lose personally if the social justice norms they call into question are undermined or completely fall out of favor.

There are at least three non-mutually exclusive reasons for why people self-identify as “politically incorrect.”

Bucking social norms (whether related to social justice or not) is often seen as a sign of rebellion. Thus, people who fancy themselves as free thinkers or provocateurs may embrace “political incorrectness” as a way of demonstrating to the world that they are not beholden to the system. In their minds, bandying about identity-based slurs is not meaningfully different than using more generic profanity, or discussing risqué or unseemly topics in public settings — these are all taboos to be broken, just for the hell of it. To put it a different way: These individuals are not promoting any kind of agenda; they are merely asserting their independence and/or trying to get a rise out of other people.

A second group that sometimes embraces the label “politically incorrect” includes free speech absolutists. They value the notion of free speech above all else, and tend to view social justice norms (e.g., the condemnation of identity-based slurs or other expressions of prejudice) as a form of censorship. People who hold this view purposefully ignore three important points. 1) The word “censorship” generally refers to state suppression of free speech. Our government has not banned any language whatsoever; we are all free to say whatever prejudiced things we want, and none of us will be locked up on account of it. 2) While we have free speech, we are by no means entitled to free speech without consequences — I have every right to dislike, object to, or publicly protest the things that you say or believe. In fact, that is an expression of my free speech! 3) In my experience, free speech absolutists are disproportionately concerned with protecting the rights of bigots who spew hate speech, but give little thought to how hate speech and pervasive expressions of intolerance have the effect of *suppressing* free speech in the targeted minority/marginalized groups (e.g., I didn’t come out as transgender until my late twenties because it was simply not safe for me to openly share that information with others). This is why we, as a society, have come to a consensus over the last half-century to not tolerate blatant expressions of prejudice against minority/marginalized groups in public settings, as such pervasive discrimination effectively silences them.

Finally, there is a third group of people who proudly call themselves “politically incorrect”: people who are downright prejudiced.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

Over the course of his campaign (and current White House transition), Trump has flouted virtually every possible norm, whether it be social, political, or legal. Many have expressed their fears about how detrimental it would be if Trump were to become “normalized” — i.e., if it became normal for U.S. presidential candidates to threaten to jail their opponents, refuse to accept election results, fail to disclose their financial ties, be utterly unprepared for the demands of the position, and so on. Here, I will only consider one aspect of this potential normalization: The threat that Trump poses to civil rights and social justice.

Trump repeatedly bragged about wanting to destroy “political correctness” — once again, the term acts as a euphemism for dismissing or dismantling social justice norms. Trump ran the most explicitly racist and xenophobic national campaign of my lifetime. He made numerous blatantly misogynistic comments, and we learned of numerous accusations that he sexually assaulted women (not to mention his own bragging to that effect). He openly mocked a disabled reporter and called deaf actor Marlee Matlin “retarded.” In any other recent election cycle, any one of these incidents would be disqualifying, let alone all taken together. These acts would have been disqualifying because, after many decades of social justice activism and advocacy, we had firmly established social norms that deemed these sorts of blatant discriminatory acts to be beyond the pale, to be simply unacceptable. Granted, prejudice most certainly had not completely gone away, but the fact that there was a steep social price to pay for overt expressions of discrimination helped to keep the most extreme bigots at bay.

But then we elected Trump. (Or more accurately, 47-ish percent of voters did.) And as of last Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center had documented 701 incidents of hateful harassment since the election (i.e., in a little over a week). Here is a breakdown by type of harassment and targeted demographics:

from Southern Poverty Law Center, “Update: Incidents of Hateful Harassment Since Election Day Now Number 701,” November 18, 2016

There has been a lot of post-election debate about whether people voted for Trump because they are racist, or sexist, etc. Of course, some of his supporters are unabashed white nationalists, KKK, alt-right, and hate-mongers of various stripes. With regards to the rest of Trump voters, I don’t think that the “are they racist/sexist/etc.?” question is particularly useful, since it plays into the false dichotomy that people are either fully prejudiced or completely free of prejudice. As I outlined at the start, prejudice is a spectrum. Even if many Trump voters do not self-identify as racist, sexist, and so on, they clearly signaled (via their votes) that they are willing to tolerate (or refuse to condemn) people who espouse blatant prejudices. And the extreme bigots (who are now openly harassing minorities and Nazi-saluting in federal buildings) have received this signal loud and clear.

And now, in the face of the biggest potential rollback of social justice norms in the last fifty years, some political pundits are urging Democrats to reject “political correctness” (by which they mean social justice activism). Seriously, are you kidding me?

Other pundits are making this same argument slightly differently. Instead of citing “political correctness,” they claim that the left should abandon “identity politics.” Now, “identity politics” can mean different things (as I explain in endnote #5 of this piece), and there are legitimate activist critiques of such approaches (see same piece). But when “identity politics” is invoked in the mainstream media (e.g., see this recent NY Times op-ed), it is typically shorthand for “focusing too much on minority/marginalized groups’ interests.”

You know what: I would *love* to stop talking about being transgender. It would be absolutely wonderful to live in a world where I didn’t have to constantly consider that aspect of my person. But you know what? I don’t have the privilege of not thinking about it, because there are shit-tons of people out there who hate me, harass me, and who wish to criminalize and silence me *because* I’m transgender. “Identity politics” is not an expression of narcissism (as some pundits seem to believe), but rather a form of organized activism to resist those who wish to disempower and disenfranchise us. Donald Trump ran a campaign that constantly stoked hatred against minority/marginalized groups; he selected one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-women’s reproductive rights politicians in the nation to be his running-mate; he is now tapping white nationalists to play high-level roles in his administration. All of these prejudices have long histories. And yet somehow, these pundits have the gall to claim that *we’re* the ones who are making this about identity?

At this critical point in time, we should not abandon “identity politics,” or “political correctness,” or whatever other pejorative you wish to use to malign social justice activism. If anything, we need to support minority/marginalized groups more now than ever before. And it starts with all of us, en masse, refusing to tolerate flagrant expressions of bigotry in our schools and workplaces, in our communities, and in our government. We should not, under any circumstances, “normalize” white nationalist GQ-type spreads in major newspapers, or Trump surrogates invoking internment camps and Muslim registries.

Anti-PC pundits will claim that many voters who turned to Trump this election resent, or were turned off by, “identity politics” and “political correctness,” and perhaps that’s true. But does that mean we should abandon social justice altogether? I’m sure many of these same voters were also turned off by discussions about climate change (it’s a hoax, after all!), and they may also resent Obamacare (because of “death panels”!) — should we completely abandon those policies as well? When voters are misinformed about an important issue, the only way forward is to counter that misinformation. There has been a lot of talk about the influence of fake news this election cycle. Well, few stories are faker than the notion that “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism” are the real problems, and that PC “identity politics” activists are the true bullies that divide us.

We can counter this misinformation in numerous ways: by accurately depicting the extremist views of the “alt-right” that helped bring Trump to power; by covering all the stories of hate crimes and harassment, and connecting the dots between those incidents and the electorate’s toleration of Trump’s bigotry; by writing thoughtful think-pieces, not about “political correctness” run amok, but about how prejudice doesn’t work in an all-or-none fashion, and that it sometimes manifests in unconscious and systemic ways; by reminding people that the social progress and civil rights they now take for granted would not have been possible without activists working to change social norms; by making it clear that social justice activism may not be perfect, but it is vitally important.

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Julia Serano

writes about gender, sexuality, social justice, & science. author of Whipping Girl, Excluded, 99 Erics, & her latest: SEXED UP! more at