Toni Morrison Summed Up What Some Are Getting Wrong About ‘Political Correctness' Today

AP

This week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush made a jab at #BlackLivesMatter protesters. At an event in New Hampshire, the Washington Post reports Bush was asked whether he thought Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley should've apologized for saying, "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter," at the Netroots Nation Presidential Town Hall in Phoenix, Arizona. Bush didn't just say O'Malley should not have backed down. He also went further and said that the whole discourse is wrong.

"We're so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying 'lives matter?'" asked Bush. "Life is precious. It's a gift from God. I frankly think that it's one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it's a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn't have apologized to a group that seemed to disagree with it. Gosh."

Source: Mic/YouTube
Source: Mic/YouTube
Source: Mic/YouTube
Source: Mic/YouTube

Bush is touting a popular refrain: That if it weren't for all these social justice warriors policing what we say, we could all have a more honest conversation about race in America.

But there's a huge problem with that line of thinking. In a 1994 interview with journalist Claudia Dreifus, Toni Morrison nailed the trouble with America's mocking tone about political correctness:

"What I think the political correctness debate is really about is the power to be able to define," Morrison said. "The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them."

Source: Mic/Jill Krementz
Source: Mic/Jill Krementz

The meaning of a movement: The power to define the reality of black life and death in America is at the heart of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It's a tremendously important pivot from what we're used to, which are stale conversations about black-on-black crime and how black folks would be safe from police abuse if only they pulled up their pants and turned their music down.

Furthermore, Bush misses the mark when it comes to the meaning behind the words "black lives matter." Alicia Garza, a #BlackLivesMatter co-founder, made the distinction in October in a post on the Feminist Wire. "When we deploy 'all lives matter' as to correct an intervention specifically created to address anti-blackness, we lose the ways in which the state apparatus has built a program of genocide and repression mostly on the backs of black people." 

But based on Bush's response to the events that unfolded this week, we can expect to hear a lot more about so-called "political correctness" in the coming election season.