THE LANGUAGE GAME
WOKE CULTURE AND THE WRITTEN WORD
1st August 2020
Levin Holtkamp / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Statues are toppling, TV programmes are air-brushed from history, Hollywood has effectively told aspiring white actors to keep waiting tables – if the restaurants are still open – art galleries are under a new curatorship operating on racial guidelines, and companies, sports teams and media outlets are falling over one another in the scramble to re-brand themselves in line with the strict new orthodoxies. Anyone who fails to see where this is going has not read the writing on the wall. Because that is exactly the new battleground on which the culture wars are being fought; writing.
Last month, media giants Associated Press announced that from now on the word ‘black’ will be written in any copy they publish as ‘Black’. While this certainly seems to be a suitable upper-case for treatment, they have also added that ‘white’ will not be given the same orthographic privilege. Whites, you see, have not had to suffer centuries of oppression, humiliated by everything from slavery to the white pieces being allowed to move first in the game of chess.
So, while English-language journalists across the globe revise their style guides and get used to Blackouts, Black swan events and the Black economy, where will this new move to blackwash, sorry, Blackwash the written word end? As with every separate cultural area in which the new putsch is operating, it will end wherever and whenever the new arbiters of acceptability say it will. And it has very much only just begun.
Rutgers University, in New Jersey, is described as a ‘leading research university’, and the spelling and grammar in its description is a model of perfection. If it hadn’t been, however, the faculty would have no problem with any inaccuracies. Rutgers, you see, has decided that grammar and spelling are racist. One might think it was time for a capital R for ‘racism’, but since only whites can be racist, that would be allowing them to have a dip in the victimhood goody-bag, so it keeps its lower-case. As for the correct use of language, this just in…
Leonydus Johnson is not, as far as I know, named for a character in Robert Graves’s Greek Myths, but the ‘speech pathologist’ has some forthright ideas about the written word;
‘’The idea that expecting a student to write in grammatically correct sentences is indicative of racial bias is asinine’… [Yes, I am having difficulties with that opening sentence]…It’s like these people believe that being non-white is an inherent handicap or learning disability… That’s racism. It has become very clear to me that those who claim to be “anti-racist” are often the most racist people in this country’.
This has been coming for some time, following on the trend for promoting ‘ebonics’, the lazy pidgin argot used primarily by young blacks, I mean Blacks, and therefore a language to be revered just as much as High Church Latin was the last time that religion ruled over the written word. The correct use of language, you understand, is a set of rules, and rules are by their very nature oppressive, having a tendency to be followed by the smarter students at university. Asians, say, who make up 40% of the student body in California, and are subject to just as much racist bile as whites are for their achievement.
Fortunately for the future of racial equality, however, the Rutgers faculty have ensured that scriptive help is at hand;
‘The Rutgers English Department created a committee [phew!] on Bias and Awareness Prevention in 2012. In light of Black Lives Matter protests, the school has moved past bias awareness and prevention and into a focus on “decolonisation”… The department offers a specific internship titled “Decolonising the Writing Center” to make the writing centers more linguistically diverse’.
Finnegan’s Wake might not seem such a challenge if written language simply becomes a free-for-all where no mistakes are possible. All I can say is, doun wiv skule.
Perhaps we should just relax with a good book. Not so fast, racist. Diversity quotas have been de rigueur in the novel publishing business for some time. Aspiring novelist? No longer does your fate hinge on a picky reader who may like your plot but not your character, or who thinks the whole book should be set not in Ancient Rome but in an Aspen ski-resort. Now, there is a new tier of hawk-eyed gate-keepers between you and a best-seller; the sensitivity reader.
The Reedsy Understanding Publishing website defines sensitivity readers as follows;
‘Sensitivity readers… review unpublished manuscripts with the express purpose of spotting cultural inaccuracies, representation issues, bias, stereotypes or problematic language’.
You won’t need a Brodie’s Notes to understand that sentence. The English novel will, of course, end up like the novel-writing machines in Orwell’s 1984, one of which Winston’s sweetheart Julia tends as a mechanic. Your best bet is to get a Kindle now and start buying up the collected works of Hardy, Eliot, Bennett, Dickens, Galsworthy, Conrad et al while you still can. No new novel, as of now, is going to be worth reading.
Naturally, this rainbow-nation approach to publishing will not just affect new novels. When it comes to the canon of English literature – not that the average BLM peaceful protestor will have read anything from it – oh boy, are the guillotine sharpeners going to be busy. Joseph Conrad was the first and easiest target for writing The N-Word of the Narcissus, so his books have to go to the fire dance, even before the dread word turns up on page five of Nostromo. P G Wodehouse is verboten too, not just for that word, but for the delightful scene where Bertie Wooster appears with a banjo in blackface – sorry, Blackface. It’s taking time to adjust – in one of the Jeeves stories. George Fraser McDonald’s 12-book Flashman series can go too, and I am not selecting broadly to make a point, just from the books I have been reading in the last few weeks. Perhaps it says more about me, and I belong on a blacklist. A Blacklist, dammit!
But at least the Bard is safe, apart from the Othello incident, obviously. Oh. Hold the presses. The Folger Shakespeare Library houses the world’s largest collection of first folios by the Swan of Avon (actually, he may have to be called the Black Swan of Avon, I’ll check) as well as many thousands of academic books on England and the world’s greatest playwright and, for some reason, it’s in America. Its first director in 1932, John Quincy Adams Jr., described this shrine;
‘In almost unbelievable fullness and richness, we assembled books, pamphlets, documents, manuscripts, relics, curios. The library is thus more than a mere library; it is also a museum of the golden age of Elizabeth, and a memorial to the influence that Shakespeare has exerted upon the world’s culture’.
It is moving to think that this tribute to genius still fulfils its function today. Except, of course, it does nothing of the sort. Methinks it doth (peacefully) protest too much, having changed tack in the last few weeks, leading its current director to decide that ‘the fight against racial injustice is essential to what we do as an institution’. One might think that such a venerable institution might be content to say, let me be that I am and seek not to alter me, and that this was all much ado about nothing, but one would be wrong.
Now, although the work and legacy of William Shakespeare would seem far removed from social revolution, it can honestly be said that nature hath framed strange fellows in her time, and when it comes to snapping into lockstep with the prevailing marching orders, the Folger Shakespeare and its board are of the opinion that better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
The board now includes Wan-Chuan Kao, who describes himself as a ‘queer medievalist of colour’. Lectures and features in their magazine include ‘The Sound of Whiteness [hey! What’s with that white supremacist cap S?], or ‘Teaching Shakespeare’s Other “Race Plays” in Five Acts’, and ‘Beauty and the Beast of Whiteness: Teaching Race and Gender’, the latter opining that ‘we must help initiate discussions of race and whiteness, especially in Renaissance classrooms, where students may least expect it’. No, they probably wouldn’t be expecting that, but these are times which confound expectations, and, as we are told by the great man, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. Or bawling, in the current atmosphere. Let’s just say it is a Black day (there! I did it!) for the Bard.
Well, that takes care of writing at the top end of the scale. What’s happening at the very bottom end? That would be the urban blight undeservedly dignified by a rather attractive Italianate name; graffiti. Spraying paint onto buildings is, of course, illegal. But just as the Left love to redefine language like someone re-arranging a plant-pot garden, it doesn’t seem to be against any law currently operating if you are a BLM protester, and so it is that most American cities are now a livid shade of Jackson Pollock. Try to remove or paint over pro-BLM graffiti, of course, and the law will suddenly take an interest. Let’s hope they check the spelling and grammar too, to ensure it is not correct and therefore racist.
There is also another type of writing which may affect you should you choose the path of heresy and be brought before the new Torquemadas of social justice. Any expulsion from school or dismissal from employment will follow you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter about grammatical usage or correct spelling in this case. Once branded with the ‘racism’ mark, it is unlikely you will work again, or be able to access the education necessary to so. Naturally, this streaming will operate on racial lines. Whites only need apply. I should write that down if I were you. Just be careful who reads it.