Just barely PC?

I want to see if I am alone in finding the following passages politically incorrect (though not necessarily offensive or bad).

I wonder how this polite footnote from Robert A. Dahl’s classic study of my hometown New Haven, CT Who Governs?: Democracy and Power in an American City would go over today.

To avoid cumbersome phrases, I refer throughout this book to Americans of Irish stock as Irishmen, to Americans of Italian stock as Italians, to Americans of English or Scotch-Irish stock long in New England as Yankees, etc. I hope the sensibilities of my readers will not be offended by usages that in other contexts are sometimes meant or felt to be invidious. Here the terms are intended only as convenient, succinct, descriptive, neutral, and widely understood labels.

I have not seen a recent edition of Who Governs, which was originally published in 1961 (mine is from 1961). Obviously, social science is more politically correct today, and there isn’t anything especially or explicitly offensive in Dahl’s choice of nomenclature for the various ethnicities in New Haven. Nowadays, it is out of vogue to refer to Irish-Americans as Irishmen and we no longer call black people/African-Americans “Negroes” as Dahl does. Colloquially, people of Anglo descent, Dahl’s “Yankees,” are usually not called Yankees anymore (some people do use it though); many people in New Haven joke that they are convinced that such white people people do not exist in the metro area, as New Haven is so thoroughly Irish and Italian Catholic. My immediate grouping of friends in high school had only two Protestants, one of Irish descent whose family was originally Catholic and converted for marital reasons. The other was the son of East German immigrants. (The Yankees I know are all old money families, and we call them Yankees only jokingly, in the way that white people say “you’re so white!” we say “you’re such a Yankee,” when it becomes obvious that they cannot dance or that they attend one of the Congregational churches in the area seems to think is for decoration because there are so few non-Catholics around. Often, it is used flirtatiously, because is such a cheesy term to use.)

Klaus Dodds, in Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction, discusses the impact of international and regional organizations in the formation of identity and the impact of EU expansion on European national identities and sensibilities.

The recent entry of Poland and Slovakia into the EU led some British newspapers to warn that Britain would be ‘swamped’ as Eastern Europeans migrated to Britain in search of work opportunities. As with immigration from the so-called New Commonwealth in the 1950s and 1960s, some commentators claimed that the country was on the verge of being overwhelmed by people who were not ‘like us’. As with contemporary debates over immigration, references to ‘swamping’ act as a kind of cultural geographic code to enact worries about national and even pan-regional identities. For those with a keener sense of history and geography, countries such as Britain have always been shaped by waves of immigrants and I for one am very happy to be served coffee by the Slovaks, Poles, and Czechs who manage my local cafe.

There doesn’t seem to be anything intentionally patronizing or offensive here. But it does come off as a little bit of the former as well as somewhat self-congratulatory. If you read the rest of Dodds’s book, he is quick to point out everything that has been wrong with American foreign policy during the Bush years and bigotries and irridentist feelings in a supercilious kind of way that makes me think this paragraph is more the result of the author’s overzealous effort to offer an enlightened and tolerant introduction to geopolitics than of some desire to be doted on by Eastern European baristas. My feeling on reading those lines, though, was why do I the reader care about who the author likes to have serve him coffee? It might be interesting to see some data as to what Britons think about foreign/EU workers and minorities, though. I think that would make his point better, if he could come up with data showing that most Britons had no issue with migrants. His personal connection, in my opinion, makes him appear as if to be deigning to the ignorant masses as a better advised Professor. Bad form. Too much information?

One thought on “Just barely PC?

  1. I don’t know the figures for Britain, but it is fairly obvious for most Western Europeans that migrants are an issue for large parts of the original population (I intentionally avoid the term autochtone). I don’t think that the UK is any exception and the recent wave of killings and ethnic tensions in heavily segregated Britain is certainly not a good sign. Britons (like French and Dutch) give funny names to members of the various immigrant communities and these members appreciate this “humor” in different ways…

    This said, I believe PC to be ridiculous most of the time, and I resent having to change my vocabulary every ten years to reflect the fact that some racist idiots use a common term in a derogatory way…

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