Solving America’s race-related problems is hard. So hard that nobody really has any clue how to do it. Burning down an auto-parts store isn’t going to help. But forcing people to attend reeducation seminars also seems unlikely to work.
Just as we spend more time watching TV than training for marathons, we lapse into doing what’s easy. And what’s easy, when it comes to race, is pretending to be outraged about commonly used words. Trying desperately not to get canceled, bosses are trying to think ahead about what words might create a fake Duraflame firestorm of anger, and preemptively ruling ordinary words out of bounds.
At the Los Angeles Times, for instance, an editor has said the word “looters,” which has been used many times in the paper, now has “a pejorative and racist connotation” and that anyone who is inclined to use the word should “talk to your immediate supervisor.” Translation: Best not use the word at all, if you want to stay employed. So what to call looters? Non-paying shoppers? That doesn’t quite tell the story: Ordinary shoplifters don’t usually bust up all the windows. How about self-appointed retail-justice-commandos? Revolutionary mass goods-redistribution agents?
Harvard, which in 2015 abolished the name “House Master” for professors in charge of residential houses, is being sweated by a group called the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard that decided to be triggered by the term “Board of Overseers,” an alumni panel dating back to the 17th century that selects the university president. Past members include John F. Kennedy. The Coalition proclaimed that the name must be changed because “ ‘Overseer’ also refers to men hired by plantation owners during that same time period to violently control and abuse enslaved people. Plantation overseers were paid to elicit the most work out of enslaved … ” etc. I didn’t finish the paragraph because my stupidity alarm was ringing in my ears. In June, the University of Louisville ditched the name “overseer” from student government organizations because of slavery.
In Houston, a Realtors association announced it would no longer use terms such as “master bedroom” or “master bathroom” not because any sane person ever associated a nice Mediterranean-style 4BR with Kunta Kinte getting whipped in “Roots” but because some yellow-blazered property guru thought this would be a way of expressing generalized racial niceness. Is any single black person better off because of this word-juggling? No, but people are confusing gestures with actions more than ever.
Twitter, which is saturated with woke-campus paranoia, this month announced that it was blacklisting the word “blacklist,” along with other supposedly “non-inclusive” terms such as “grandfathered” (ageist, I guess), “guys” (too gendered) and “sanity check,” which is something most of us could use a little more of in our lives, but Twitter desperately needs on a daily basis, the way Uma Thurman needed that adrenaline shot in “Pulp Fiction.”
But any noun that has any association with anything bad in anyone’s mind, or ever did at any point in history, is now under scrutiny. Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah says the Texas Rangers’ name is racist. Now that the woke left has succeeded in getting the Washington Redskins to change their name — a decision that despite nonstop cheerleading by the media never enjoyed more than 29 percent support in polls — every other team name is under scrutiny.
“The team’s name is not so far off from being called the Texas Klansmen,” Attiah wrote.
Wait till she finds out what cowboys did. For that matter, doesn’t the term “Vikings” trigger deep-seated fears of marauding, raping and pillaging, often carried out by people wearing horns they had cut out of the heads of innocent animals? I feel unsafe. Clearly the Minnesota football franchise should stop celebrating a people associated with bloodshed and rename themselves the Conflict De-Escalation Counselors. Rethinking every noun in America is the only way forward, people. Or do you want to be considered one of the Klansmen?
Kyle Smith is critic-at-large for National Review.
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