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A Guide to Wokespeak

Notes on the ascendant Left’s new terminology.

By Victor David HansonNational Review

ith the rise of the Left inevitable over the next two years, the public should become acquainted with the Left’s strange language of Wokespeak. Failure to do so could result in job termination and career cancellation. It is certainly a fluid tongue. Words often change their meanings as the political context demands. And what was yesterday’s orthodoxy is today’s heterodoxy and tomorrow’s heresy. So here is some of the vocabulary of the woke lexicon.

“Anti-racism.” Espousing this generic compounded -ism is far preferable to accusing particular people of being “racists” — and then being expected to produce evidence of their concrete actions and words to prove such indictments.

Instead, one can pose as fighting for “anti-racism” and thereby imply that all those whom one opposes, disagrees with, or finds distasteful, de facto, must be for “racism.”

“Anti-racism” is a useful salvo for students, teachers, administrators, public employees, political appointees, and media personnel to use peremptorily: declare from the start that you are working for “anti-racism” and then anyone who disagrees with you therefore must be racist, or, antithetically, “pro-racism.”

Oddly, such Wokespeak “anti-” adjectives denote opposition to something that no one claims to be for. For each proclaimed “anti-racist,” “anti-imperialist,” or “anti-colonialist,” there is almost no one who wishes to be a “racist” or desires to be a “colonialist” or an “imperialist.” These villains mostly come to life only through the use of their “anti-” adjectives.

“Disparate Impact.” This word is becoming anachronistic — call it Wokespoke, if you will. In ancient labor-law usage, it often accompanied the now equally calcified term “disproportional representation.” But in 21st-century American Wokespeak, it is no longer necessarily unfair, illegal, or unethical that some racial, gender, or ethnic groups are “over”-represented in certain coveted admissions and hiring.

Thus there can be no insidious, silent, or even inadvertent, but otherwise innate, bias that results in now-welcomed disproportional representation.

“Disparate” thus will likely be replaced by a more proper neologism such as “parity” or “affirmative” impact to denote that “overrepresentation” of one group over another is hardly “disparate,” but just and necessary to restore “parity” for past crimes of racism and sexism.

So disparate impact in general no longer has any systematic utility in matters of racial grievance and will soon be dropped. It was once a means to get to where we are and beyond. For example, at about 12 percent of the population, African Americans are disproportionally represented as players in both Major League Baseball (8 percent), and the National Basketball Association (75–80 percent), as are “whites” likewise in both sports, who constitute 65–70 percent of the general population, but make up only 45 percent of the MLB and 15–20 percent of the NBA. No constant term can be allowed to represent facts such as these.

“Cultural appropriation.” This adjective-noun phrase must include contextualization to be an effective tool in the anti-racism effort.

It does not mean, as the ignorant may infer from its dictionary entries, merely “the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity.”

Asian Americans do not appropriate “white” or “European” culture by ballet dancing or playing the violin; “whites” or “Europeans” surely do appropriate Asian culture by using non-Asian actors in Japanese kabuki dance-drama.

For non–African Americans, dreadlocks or playing jazz are cultural appropriations; dying darker hair blond is not. A black opera soprano is hardly a cultural appropriationist. Wearing a poncho, if one is a non–Mexican-American citizen, is cultural theft; a Mexican-American citizen wearing a tuxedo is not.

Only a trained cultural appropriationist can determine such felonies through a variety of benchmarks. Usually the crime is defined as appropriation by a victimizing majority from a victimized minority. Acceptable appropriation is a victimized minority appropriating from a victimizing majority. A secondary exegesis would add that only the theft of the valuable culture of the minority is a felony, while the occasional use of the dross of the majority is not.

“Diversity.” This term does not include false-consciousness efforts to vary representation by class backgrounds, ideologies, age, or politics. In current Wokespeak, it instead refers mostly to race and sex (see “Race, class, and gender”), or in practical terms, a generic 30 percent of the population self-identified as non-white — or even 70 percent if inclusive of non-male non-whites.

“Diversity” has relegated “affirmative action” — the older white/black binary that called for reparatory “action” to redress centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and institutionalized prejudice against African Americans — to the Wokespoke dustbin.

“Diversity” avoids the complications arising out of past actionable grievances, or worries about the overrepresentation or underrepresentation of particular tribes, or the class or wealth of the victimized non-white.

The recalibrated racially and ethnically victimized have grown from 12 percent to 30 percent of the population and need not worry whether they might lose advantageous classifications, should their income and net worth approximate or exceed that of the majority oppressive class.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion.” This triad is almost always used in corporate, professional, and academic administrative titles, such as in a dean, director, or provost of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

Known more commonly by their familiar, abbreviated sobriquets of “diversity czars,” such coveted billets are usually immune from budget cuts and economic belt-tightening. Often such newly created czar positions are subsidized in times of protest and financial duress by increasing the reliance on exploited part-time or low-paid workers, by either cutting or freezing their hours, benefits, or salaries.

No “equity czar,” for example, can afford publicly to be concerned about university exploitation of all part-time faculty. (See also under “Equity.”)

“Diversity” and “inclusion” are not synonymous or redundant nouns. Thus they should be used always in tandem: One can advocate for “inclusion” without oneself actually being “diverse,” or one can be “diverse” but not “include” others who are “diverse.” However, serving both diversity and inclusion ideally implies that those hired as non-white males are entrusted to hire additional non-white males.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox

“Equity.” Equity has now replaced the Civil Rights–era goal of “equality” — a word relegated to vestigial Wokespoke. After 60 years, equality apparently was exposed as a retrograde bourgeois synonym for the loaded “equality of opportunity” rather than a necessary, mandated “equality of result.”

Since seeking equality does not guarantee that everyone will end up the same, “equality” became increasingly unhelpful. Equity, in contrast, means that we do not just treat people at this late date “equally” — since most have been prior victims of various -isms and -ologies that require reparatory considerations.

“Equity” instead means treating people quite differently, even prejudicially so, to even the playing field for our past sins of economic, social, political, and cultural inequity.

“Hate speech.” Most of the incendiary “free speech” protected under the First Amendment is in actuality “hate speech,” and therefore deserves no such protection. If America were a properly woke society, then there would be no need for the First Amendment.

Like much of the vocabulary of Wokespeak, the notion of “hate speech” is not symmetrical. It cannot be diluted, subverted, and contextualized by false equivalencies. So the oppressed, occasionally in times of understandable duress, can use generic gender and race labels to strike back at the oppressor (see “Leveling the playing field”).

Crude stereotypes can be occasionally useful reminders for the victimized of how to balance the predictable hurtful vocabulary of the victimizer. In times of emotional trauma, the use by the oppressed of emphatics and colloquials such as “cracker,” “honky,” “gringo,” “whitey,” or “white trash” can serve as useful reminders of how “words matter.” In general, the rare and regrettable use of purported “hate speech” by one oppressed group against another is not necessarily hate speech, but usually a barometer of how a majority lexicon has marginalized the Other.

“Implicit bias.” “Implicit” is another handy intensifying adjective (see “Systemic racism”). Implicit bias, however, differs somewhat from “systemic racism.” It is analogous to a generic all-purpose antibiotic, useful against not just one pathogen but all pathogens, such as sexism, homophobia, nativism, transphobia, etc., that make up “bias,” a word that is now rarely used without an intensifying adjective.

Also, “implicit,” while implying “systemic,” additionally suggests chronological permanence, as in “innate bias.”

Thus “implicit bias” denotes a hard-to-detect prejudice against the non-heterosexual, the non-white, and the non-male that is sometimes as nontransparent as is it innate to the DNA of the heterosexual white male. Diversity trainers and workshops are needed to identify and inoculate against the virus of implicit bias.

“Intersectionality.” Race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics supposedly “intersect” with one another as shared victimizations. Thus, the community of the oppressed is commonly crisscrossed, and therefore amplified by such osmosis of shared grievances. The postmodern “intersectionality” has replaced the apparently now-banal term “rainbow coalition.”

In theory, the more shared victimizations, the higher the ranking one enjoys within the intersectional community.

However, when intersectionality results in stubborn tribal rivalries and struggles over identity-politics spoils, either one of two things follows: On the good side, those with the most oppressions (e.g., gay women of color) are the most rewarded accordingly. But on the bad side, the intersectional graph is blurred into rank Balkanization or worse.

bellum omnium tribūum contra omnes tribūs follows, as the number of victims outnumbers the victimizers. Unfortunately, reparatory claims then must be fought over intrasectionally, i.e., each offended tribe unites monolithically in opposition to the others: e pluribus tribibus una becomes plures tribūs ex una.

“Leveling the playing field.” Sports terms can become useful Wokespeak. So to un-level the playing field is to “level” it. Leveling does not mean insisting on equality of opportunity (i.e., ensuring a soccer or rugby field does not slope in one direction), given inherent inequity. After all, when one team has not had access to proper training facilities, it deserves to play on an advantageously sloped field.

So to “level” means most certainly to slope the field for the benefit of one team, which in other matters allegedly suffers from past disadvantage brought on by bias that can only be corrected by and compensated through downhill advantage — or bias.

“LGBTQ.” This is currently the most widely used woke sobriquet for the homosexual and transgendered communities (see “Intersectionality”), although almost no one can agree on what the letter Q actually stands for.

Most clumsy politicians invoke the combined abbreviations — but often mangle and mix up the letters — without knowing really who does and does not qualify within the larger rubric. The term assumes there are few if any different agendas among homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered — at least that might outweigh their common nonbinary affinities.

“Marginalized.” The marginalized are those dehumanized by the white majority culture on the basis of race, sex, and sexual orientation. On rare occasions, the category can be difficult to articulate, given the intrusion of irrelevant class considerations that supposedly remedy “marginalization.” Income and wealth, however, are transitory criteria; sex and race are not. Jay-Z, Barack Obama, and LeBron James are permanently marginalized in a way that an unemployed Pennsylvania clinger is not.

“Micro-aggression.” “Micro” is another qualifying adjective of our subtler age in which active race- and gender-based prejudices are almost impossible for the novice to spot.

Instead, adept micro-aggression experts and skilled diversity trainers can detect double entendres, gestures, inexplicable silences, facial expressions, fashions, and habits — the “code” that gives one away as an offensive sexist or racist. Such skills, much like cryptography, as mastering a cult’s hand gestures can be taught through workshops to the general population to enable them to break these silent systems of insidious aggressions.

“Proportional representation.” This, and its negative twin, disproportional representation, is another ossified term (see “Disparate impact”) that has largely served its 1990s purpose and is now relegated to Wokespoke.

Originally, it meant that various minority groups deserved to be represented in hiring and admissions, and in popular culture, in numbers commensurate to their percentages in the general population.

But in 21st-century Wokespeak, the goal of ensuring “proportional representation” can now be racist, sexist, and worse — given that females enroll in, and graduate from, colleges in far greater numbers than their proportions of the general population, or that African Americans, from lucrative professional sports to coveted federal jobs such as the U.S. Postal Service, are represented in number greater than their percentages in the general population.

To reflect new demographics, proportionality is becoming questionable; disproportionality is now almost good.

“Race, class, and gender.” Another Wokespoke, Neanderthal tripartite term that is dropping out of Wokespeak.

“Class” no longer matters much in America. Billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros are not enemies of the people; white impoverished deplorables in West Virginia certainly are. Oprah is a victim. So are Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg and Michelle Obama. Class is an anachronism.

To ensure distance from the irredeemables and clingers, Wokespeak will soon likely reduce the catechism to just “race and gender.”

“Safe space.” Safe spaces on college campuses (see “Theme house”) are not just segregated by race, gender, and sexual orientation; they are better described as official no-go zones for identifiable white heterosexual males. It would be debatable whether particular non-white or non-heterosexual or non-male groups can intrude into the segregated spaces of other particular groups. In general, these segregated enclaves offer sanctuary against “implicit bias” and “systemic racism.” Labeling them as “segregated spaces” is proof of implicit bias and systemic racism.

“Systemic racism.” “Systemic” belongs to this newer family of intensifying adjectival epithets (e.g., “micro,” “implicit,” etc.) that are necessary to posit a pathology that otherwise is hard to see, hear, or experience.

When one cannot point to actual evidence of “racism,” one can simply say that it is nowhere precisely because it is everywhere — sort of like the air we breathe that we count on, but often can’t see or feel.

“Theme house.” Theme houses are university dorms or sponsored off-campus student housing segregated by race. “Theme” is a useful euphemism for segregation, given that in theory there can be dorms for those of all races who share musical, artistic, or scholarly interests — or “themes,” e.g., an opera dorm or History House. But, in fact, “theme” today refers usually to race, gender, and ethnicity.

In Wokespeak, everyone is for theme houses; no one is for racially desegregating them. Being against the racial segregation of college dorms can become racist; being for them is never racist. Picking a future college roommate on the basis of race can be allowed — if neither the selector nor the selected is so-called “white.”

“The Other.” See under “Diversity.”

“Unearned white privilege”— as opposed to mere “white privilege.” The intensifier “unearned” is usually an added-on confessional by middle-aged white people in administrative or elite professional and coveted billets who wish to express their utmost penance for their high salaries, titles, and influence.

“Unearned,” however, is not to be confused with “undeserved.” Instead, it suggests certain white elites who wish to publicly confess their guilt for doing so well but without having to resign and to give back what they admittedly claim they did not earn.

Thus a college president is allowed to confess to having enjoyed “unearned” white privilege that nonetheless does not mean his present position is “undeserved.”

In sum, despite the fact that he was unfairly catapulted into the presidency, the college president’s manifest genius displayed after obtaining the job means he is now woke and clearly deserves to remain in the post. In other words, what explicit “unearned” was then, implicit “deserved” is now.


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