Being politically correct is a loser’s game.
Bear with me on this because I will ramble about a bit. It just feels to me that the United States is suffering from a disease (from the root, dis-ease). We are overcome in a fatal desire to remove emotion and meaning in our communications and demote all of our messaging to Pablum. We risk losing our ability to communicate effectively by offending no one and intellectualizing our communications to remove any hint of human emotion. (Read an article I wrote a while back on Political Correctness and Branding)
Here is a case in point. For years, around the same time as the North Carolina State Fair, a rival venue pitches its tents in Winston-Salem. It is an old fashioned fair that has never pretended to be anything more than what it is. It does not pretend to be instructive or educational. It is just about carnival frivolity. Sure, there are 4H competitions but for the most part this fair is about carnival rides, greased pig catching, fried butter and everything else that can be dipped into batter and hot oil and carnival side-shows with an embarrassing bent towards a carnival freak show. Don’t worry, no one is complaining about the political incorrectness of paid freaks and oddities. Nope. The hubbub has been all about this fair’s name. It is and has always been called the Dixie Classic. Go figure. Luckily, for the sake of nothing more than tradition, the movement to get this politically incorrect festival of obesity, birth defects and care-less animal shows has decided to keep its name.
What is wrong with us? We will be gutting everything of emotion and living in a world of a single flavor ice cream store that foolishly serves only vanilla.
We tell all of our brand clients that the price of clarity is the risk of offence. If you are building a brand that is meant to appeal to literally everyone and offends no one— you have no brand. You have a category description.
I agree with recent fervor over the Confederate battle flag (which indeed has become racially charged since the 50s and 60s) that it should not be flown over state capitals. But the destruction of Civil War memorials is a different beer. We all watched in horror when the Taliban destroyed the two Buddha sculptures because it offended Islam.
But we don’t seem to be upset over the defacing and proposed destruction of statues erected a century ago to honor men who fought and died in the Civil War. Why? Because we do not know our own history. If you believe we should tear down those memorials because these men fought on the wrong side of slavery you are historically blind. Based upon that sort of historical ignorance we should tear down the Washington Monument. The founders of this country like Washington, Jefferson, Madison and others were slave holders. They fought a war with England (which had outlawed slavery) to protect and continue their own way of life. In effect, Southerners during the revolution were also fighting to maintain their warped pro-slavery lifestyle.
No, I am not suggesting that we pillory Washington. What I am suggesting is that we recognize our history and accept it as it is. Warts and all.
What’s next on this politically correct terrorism? Should we tear down all the confederate memorials at Gettysburg and Sharpsburg (Sharpsburg is what the Confederacy called the battle of Antietam).
Stop this. History is history and we cannot rewrite it. We should revel in its twisted wonder and not pretend we fully understand all the motivations that fed its fires.
If you are worried about dumbing down your brand to reach a politically correct agenda, think again. Never apologize for the emotional cues that drive preference or adoption.
A Politically Incorrect Hero.
Here is my final jab at a historical politically correct speech.
President Eisenhower received a letter from a constituent while he served as our President challenging his habit of hanging a few portraits of some of the greatest Americans that he admired. Among those few portraits was one of Robert Edward Lee, better known to us as General Robert E. Lee.
President Eisenhower took the time to write his challenger back and I leave his response here for your consideration. Remember, Ike was a Northerner. He was the top military figure in the world before his Presidency and a student of history. Here is Ike’s response:
August 9, 1960
Dear Dr. Scott:
Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War between the States the issue of secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.
General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.
From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.
Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
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