Tuesday, June 9, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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John Leo

A Plague Of `Isms' On Your Politically Correct House

Universal Press Syndicate

HOW many "isms" are plaguing America?

A few years ago, most of us would have said two: racism and sexism. But that was in the '80s, the period we can now identify as the heydey of intense "ism" deprivation.

Since then the Politically Correct movement has put a great deal of time and effort into "ism" development. Once as rare as truffles, "isms" began to appear in great clumps.

Ableism and ageism were early entries. Eurocentrism, ethnocentrism and monoculturalism codified the outstanding political sins of white guys. Elitism mutated into classism; exclusivism and exclusionism.

Feminists weighed in with genderism, patriarchalism, machoism, masculinism, rapism, androcentrism, and a few progressively more incomprehensible but very similar "isms" identifying various expressions of male piggery.

Things like phallicism, phallocentrism and phallogocentrism.

Hegemonism joined two resurrected old Marxist favorites on the list: imperialism and colonialism. So did neo-colonialism. (A New York college student recently criticized his English professor, sharply reminding the teacher that any white male professor who tries to discuss books written by black females is neo-colonialist.)

The first national lesbian convention in Atlanta last year called attention to fatism - any insult, however unintended, to persons of weight. For instance, the words "dieting" and "overweight" are both inherently fatistic, because they imply that

something is wrong with being differently sized.

The convention also banned the handing out of pamphlets on grounds that "you put the woman you're handing something to in a position where she has to say no, and everyone knows how difficult in this culture it is to say no." This might have been codified as coercive pamphletism, but, alas, was not.

A women's collective in Boston came up with scentism - the imposition of one's perfume or cologne on the unsuspecting noses of any nearby life forms that may not wish to smell it.

A bunch of "isms" reflect the belief that human beings are no more valuable then deer ticks or any other form of life - speciesism, biocentrism, kingdomism, phylumism, anthropocentrism.

Great advances took place around the concept of lookism. The Smith College Department of Student Affairs offered this handy and unforgettable definition of lookism: "the belief that appearance is an indicator of a person's value; the construction of a standard for beauty/attractiveness; and oppression through stereotypes and generalizations of both those who do not fit that standard and those who do."

Lookism was broken down into its important component "isms" - faceism, sizeism, weightism, heightism, shapeism and most recently, breastism. No decision yet on leggism or thighism.

In January, the highly PC college town of Santa Cruz, Calif., approved a lookism ordinance banning discrimination in housing and employment based on height, weight or other physical characteristics. Passing up the talented but unattractive wicked witch and hiring Snow White is now illegal in Santa Cruz. The Associated Press reported that this law, known as the "ugly" ordinance, came too late to save the job of a psychiatric aide who came to work in purple hair, a nose ring, five earrings and a pierced tongue.

Sightism, often confused with lookism, is actually a subdivision of ableism. It refers to insults toward the visually impaired, as, for example, the expression "I see what you mean." Similarly, handism does not refer to the love of anyone's hands. It indicates the oppression of left-handers by the designing of most tools and machines for the right-handed majority. Even scissors are handist.

Homosexuals weighed in with heterosexism. Latinos came up with angloism. Blacks contributed the word colorism to refer to African Americans who prefer lighter skin tones to darker ones. Out of uneasiness with science and learning, the PC culture came up with scientism, bookism, biologism, rationalism and logocentrism.

Like strawberries grafted onto the side of oranges, odd new double "isms" appeared. A smokestack located in a minority neighborhood was environmental racism. Gay and feminist complaints were joined in the word heteropatriarchalism. And animal lookism was coined to deplore the lookist preference for cute animals over non-cute ones, like rats.

When you're outvoted, that's majoritarianism. If parents or other adults try to teach you something, that's adultism. If you are expected to meet some standard or get some credentials, that's credentialism. And if you draw a map that puts Europe and North America at the top, and generally darker-skinned peoples below in the Southern Hemisphere, that's borealcentrism.

So far, hard digging has turned up 75 dangerous "isms." But hang on; with so many productive ismologists in the field, we should top a hundred any day now. Duke University's president appointed a committee to search out "disrespectful facial expressions" aimed at minority students. Can negative faceistic expressionism be far off?

John Leo is a contributing editor to U.S. News and World Report.

(Copyright, 1992, John Leo / Universal Press Syndicate)

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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