July 2nd 2020
I first learned of John Leo in 1999 when he penned the clever and prescient piece titled "A Waspish, Niggardly Slur," wherein he exposed the dangerous trend in language manipulation that is now so wildly prevalent. It was an equal-opportunity poke at the absurd lengths to which people will go to accuse someone of racism.
Leo explained that a Washington, D.C. white mayoral aide, David Howard, had used the term "niggardly." A black official took offense because he felt that it was a racist term. In fact, niggardly means miserly or cheap and has nothing whatsoever to do with race. Nonetheless, Howard offered his resignation, and then Mayor Anthony Williams accepted the resignation, explaining that "although Howard didn't say anything that was in itself racist" (emphasis mine), "using a word that could be misunderstood was like 'getting caught smoking in a refinery with a resulting explosion.'"
Thus began the onslaught of alleged coded insults that has now metastasized so that everyone is afraid of calling a spade a spade. The "expression 'to call a spade a spade' entered the English language when Nicholas Udall translated Erasmus in 1542. To be clear, 'the 'spade' in the Erasmus translation has nothing to do with a deck of cards, but rather the gardening tool. The early usages of the word 'spade' did not refer to either race or skin color. The Oxford English Dictionary says the first appearance of the word spade as a reference to blackness was in Claude McKay's 1928 novel Home to Harlem, which was notable for its depictions of street life in Harlem in the 1920s. 'Jake is such a fool spade,' wrote McKay. 'Don't know how to handle the womens [sic].' Fellow Harlem Renaissance writer Wallace Thurman then used the word in his novel The Blacker The Berry: A Novel of Negro Life, a widely read and notable work that explored prejudice within the African-American community."
Moreover, "[e]ventually, the phrase 'black as the ace of spades' also became widely used, further strengthening the association between spades and playing cards. Wolfgang Mieder notes that in the fourth edition of The American Language, H.L. Mencken's famous book about language in the United States, 'spade' is listed as one of the 'opprobrious' names for 'Negroes[.]' Robert L. Chapman struck a similar note in his Thesaurus of American Slang (1989). 'All these terms will give deep offense if used by nonblacks,' warned Chapman, listing 'spade' in a group that included words like blackbird, shade, shadow, skillet and smoke."
So what does all of this mean for people who want to, well, 'call a spade a spade'? Mieder concludes his case study with the argument that 'to call a spade a spade' should be retired from modern usage: 'Rather than taking the chance of unintentionally offending someone or of being misunderstood, it is best to relinquish the old innocuous proverbial expression all together.'
More recently, we have been told that chess is now a racist game because the white pieces go before the black ones.
City-dwellers of any color generally have the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment. That's what being street smart used to mean. Not anymore - now being "street smart" means you are a racist. Thus, "[t]he chief judge for the Central District of California ... has stepped down from that post, citing his racially insensitive comments regarding the court's top administrative official, a Black woman Kiry K. Gray."
Apparently, during a webinar, Judge Cormac J. Carney "discussed the protests and vandalism in several cities across the nation following the killing of George Floyd[.]" Carney stated that '[i]t's been sad, quite frankly, seeing our courthouses vandalized with graffiti.' When Carney began discussing his adjusting to the role of chief district judge, he stated '[f]ortunately for me, we have just a fabulous clerk of the court in Kiry Gray. She's so street-smart and really knows her job.'"
That resulted in a barrage of accusations against the judge. Yet the judge asserted that to him, "the term means a person of great common sense, initiative, and ability to work with people and get things done. It saddened [him] greatly to learn that some people view the term to be demeaning to people of color. [He] never knew that there was a different definition of the term." Like former mayoral aide David Howard , the judge bowed to the whims of the coded insult crowd.
In the mid 1990s, when John Leo wrote Whitney to Whitey: Drop Dead he explained that the cashier at the biennial art show at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art told him he couldn't "imagine ever wanting to be white." Accordingly, "in a flash [Leo] knew he had stumbled into yet another politically correct art show meant to frighten the white folks (and, of course, the male folks and the straight folks)." After all, as Bruce Bawer explains, "Whiteness Studies, which, unlike other identity-group 'studies', exists not to exalt the group in question but to demonize it. In the words of National Post columnist Barbara Kay, Whiteness Studies teaches that to be white is to be 'branded, literally in the flesh, with evidence of a kind of original sin. You can try to mitigate your evilness, but you can't eradicate it. The goal ... is to entrench permanent race consciousness in everyone - eternal victimhood for non-whites, eternal guilt for whites.'"
If you truly want to prove your inner social justice credentials, you need to adhere to the following: Katie Dupere asserts that "[y]ou're all about thoughtful solidarity. You're constantly on that social justice grind." Thus, "if one of these 12 words is still in your vocabulary, it's time to reframe, rethink and reimagine your word choices." For example, the word exotic is unacceptable because "[u]sing this word ends up exoticizing whomever you're referring to, usually with nasty racial underpinnings. It's a major verbal microaggression[.]"
Dupere takes issue with the word "ghetto" because she believes that "classism and racism run rampant when you call a place or a person 'ghetto.' A nd that should make anyone cringe." This is an interesting twist. In an effort to allegedly use "kinder language,' she erases the actual history of the word, which was the enforced segregation of Jews beginning in 1516 in Venice, Italy. In her so-called concern for gentler language, she ignores anti-Semitism and distorts and erases historical reality. But, after all, Jews are now in the privileged white class category, so this is par for the course. Whether it is language distortion, historical revision, or statue destruction, it stems from radicals who ardently believe that "America will be as racist and oppressive as it is white. The only way to advance is through destruction."
According to Tristin Hopper, "Left, right, black, white or brown; the only thing people seemed to agree on in 2017 was that everyone was racist except them." Consequently, according to "Australian Vice contributor Ruby Pivet, when white girls wear [hoop earrings] they are plundering Latin identity." Pivet asserts that "as for many women of colour before me, hoops play a large role in my self preservation and expression[.]"
Moreover, "Yusra Khogali, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, decided to call [the Canadian prime minister] a 'white supremacist terrorist.' Her apparent reasoning ... was that Trudeau is the leader of a state founded on the 'genocide of black people' and that by inviting refugees turned away by the U.S., he is trying to prolong the 'genocide of Indigenous people.'"
In addition, "'Clan' is a synonym for 'clique,' a word to refer to families in the Scottish Highlands and, if you spell it with a 'k,' it can evoke the most notorious domestic terrorist organization in United States history. It's also the name for the Simon Fraser University athletic teams, in reference to the Scottish origins of the school's founder. Philosophy professor Holly Andersen knows that the SFU teams aren't named after the KKK, but...she campaigned for the name to be changed anyway. 'This is not a history we can just wish away by saying, "But that's not what WE mean by it!"'"
Even gestures come in for the thought and speech police. Jeff Jacoby writes about Emmanuel Cafferty, a Hispanic employee of San Diego Gas and Electric, who was fired for making a "white supremacist" gesture - except that "he wasn't making any gesture at all, and did not even know that such a symbol existed." Then there is David Shor, who analyzed a piece of research re: the effectiveness of violent protests. That was all it took - Twitter agitators demanded his termination. Moreover, Michigan State University leaders have" successfully pressured Stephen Hsu to resign from his position as vice president of research and innovation after the Graduate Employees Union launched a campaign to oust him from his role because his research indicated that 'police are not more likely to shoot African-Americans.'" Skai Jackson, a former Disney Channel star, urged young social media followers by tweeting that "Caucasian teens, who say or write something inappropriate" will be exposed. Thus, "even children are being targeted as racists with the encouragement of adults so that justice can be served."
What justice ?
Finally, "this [may] be the pinnacle of all ... questionable racism accusations. An unidentified woman walks into a U.S. Taco Bell and orders medium fries. A cashier then informs her (several times, in fact) that they are a Taco Bell and do not sell fries. After a few moments of goggle-eyed confusion, the woman concludes that prejudice is afoot. 'This is racism,' she declares."
Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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