Part of the goal of this is political, of course. The more you repeat words like “proper antiracist education” or “systemic racism” or “racial inequity” or “lived experience” or “heteronormativity,” the more they become part of the landscape of words, designed to dull one’s curiosity about what on earth any of them can possible mean. A mass of ideological abstractions, in Orwell’s words, “falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details.”
Then this: “Racism was created with intention.” Abstract noun, passive voice, vague meaning. Who “created” it? What was the intention exactly? Hasn’t racist tribalism been a feature of human society for tens of thousands of years? They never say.
Or this phrase: “purposeful equitable policy creation.” Again: what are they talking about? It is as vague as “doing the work” — and as deliberate as the use of a highly contested term like “structural racism” to define objective reality.
These are phrases not designed to say anything real. They are phrases designed to send a message of orthodoxy, and, as Orwell also noted, “orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.” Try reading Slate or Vox or the Huffington Post: the tedium you feel is the tedium of a language rendered lifeless by ideology.
I caught a glimpse of Ibram X. Kendi’s recent appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the annual woke, oxygen-deprived hajj for the left-media elites. He was asked to define racism — something you’d think he’d have thought a bit about. This was his response: “Racism is a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.” He does this a lot. He repeats Yoda-stye formulae … When he proposes specific action to counter racism, for example, he suggests: “Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy.” “Always vote for the leftist” is a bit blunter.
The sexual revolutionaries are the worst:
The most dedicated abusers of the English language, of course, are the alphabet people. They have long since abandoned any pretense at speaking English and instead bombard us with new words: “cisheteropatriarchy”, “homonormativity”, “fraysexuality”, “neutrois”, “transmasculine”, “transmisogynoir”, and on and on.
To give you a sense of the completely abstract bullshit involved here, take a style guide given out to journalists by trans activists, instructing them on how to cover transgender questions…. Here’s the guide’s definition of “gender nonconforming”: “[it] refers to gender presentations outside typical gendered expectations. Note that gender nonconforming is not a synonym for non-binary. While many non-binary people are gender nonconforming, many gender nonconforming people are also cisgender.”
This is a kind of bewildering, private language. But the whole point of the guide is to make it our public language, to force other people to use these invented words, to make the entire society learn and repeat the equivalent of their own post-modern sanskrit. This is our contemporary version of what Orwell went on to describe as “newspeak” in Nineteen Eighty-Four: a vocabulary designed to make certain ideas literally unthinkable because woke language has banished them from use. Repeat the words “structural racism” and “white supremacy” and “cisheteropatriarchy” often enough, and people come to believe these things exist unquestioningly. Talk about the LGBTQIA2S+ community and eventually, people will believe it exists (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).
How to push back:
And that is the only recourse an average citizen has when buried by this avalanche of abstraction: ask the language-launderers what they are really talking about.
- When some doofus apologizes for the “terrible pain” they have caused to the whatever community, ask them to give a specific example of that “pain.”
- When someone says “structural racism,” ask: what actual “structures” are you referring to? How do they actually work? Give concrete examples.
- When someone calls American society “white supremacy”, ask them how you could show that America is not a form of “white supremacy”.
- When someone uses the word “Latinx”, ask them which country does that refer to.
- When someone says something is “problematic”, ask them to whom?