Carolyn Meadows, the newly elected president of the National Rifle Association, seemed to go out of her way during a recent newspaper interview to note that the person who had captured a congressional seat that had been held by Republicans for 40 years was a “minority female.”
Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, the person to whom she was referring, became a gun safety activist after her teenage son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death in 2012 by a 49-year-old man who fired into a car full of teenagers after arguing with them over loud music.
Before running for Congress, McBath, 56, was a national spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Everytown spent more than $4 million, mostly for television ads, and volunteers with Moms Demand Action knocked on doors on her behalf. During the primary and the general election, McBath was often criticized by her opponents for being a one-issue candidate because of her support for gun control.
But Meadows, in an interview published Sunday in the Marietta Daily Journal, brushed all that aside. She said that “it is wrong to say like McBath said, that the reason she won was because of her anti-gun stance. That didn't have anything to do with it — it had to do with being a minority female.”
She later released a statement apologizing to McBath, saying, “My comments were insensitive and inappropriate.”
Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is about 60 percent white and includes some of the most affluent communities in metropolitan Atlanta. McBath is the first African American to hold the seat. Meadows seemed to suggest that she got it based on some political version of affirmative action.
A couple of counties to the east in the city of Hoschton, Ga., Mayor Theresa Kenerly reportedly pulled the application for a finalist for city administrator in March “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.” The incident was reported this week by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and some city council members and residents have called for Kenerly to resign, along with a council member who, in defense of the mayor, said that interracial marriage was against his “Christian beliefs.”
Racially insensitive and sexist words aren’t spoken only in the South. People in positions of power or prominence across the country have found themselves having to answer for statements that offended a particular group. This week, a television anchor in Baltimore was fired after she noted during an on-air interview that two of the city’s last three mayors were black women who resigned amid scandal and asked whether “a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?”
Such attitudes and utterances are not new, but some people seem far more comfortable openly expressing their dislikes of and disagreements with people of color, women and LGBTQ individuals in recent years. Although some conservatives have waged war on the notion of “political correctness” for the past several decades, Donald Trump turned it into a crusade during his presidential campaign. He said he would not be cowed by political correctness, dismissing criticism of his descriptions of Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, of his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States and of his comments over the years in which he referred to women with such insults as “fat pigs” and “dogs.”
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump said in a debate during the campaign.
Trump and his supporters still applaud his disdain for political correctness.
Mary-Kate Lizotte, a professor of political science at Augusta University in Augusta, Ga., said it worries her that even some liberals have begun to question whether there is too much political correctness.
People should not feel comfortable spewing racist and sexist rhetoric, she argues.
“I think political correctness has been a good thing and at times hasn’t gone far enough in my opinion,” said Lizotte, whose focus of study is gender and politics. “The important thing is to make those public and even somewhat private statements be shameful to say. ... We don’t want it to become commonplace.”
Lizotte cites research that “talks about how your brain becomes habituated to thinking certain things” because of a constant association of two images or ideas. She said that is one way that stereotypes develop.
“The way to change people’s hearts and mind is to make it where our brains don’t have that automatic stereotyping, because they have not heard that association over and over again,” she said.
Lizotte said research suggests people with “a strong commitment to egalitarianism” resist stereotyping. “They won’t let their brain go there and when it does, they check themselves by saying, ‘Wait a minute: Is that a stereotype? Am I being unfair?”