Re-purposing Race part 3: Operation Dictionary

Critical Race Theorists are intentionally repurposing language. It’s worth noting the activities that Robin DiAngelo says her colleagues are indulging in. Each “uses the metaphor…”, “coined the phrase…”, “describes whiteness as…” or “Critiques the concept of…”

Language is (possibly) humanity’s only inherently democratic impulse. Language is the currency of human communication; words are its coinage, and, like money, they have exactly the value we agree, as a community, they should have. Unlike money, though, words are collectively owned, by everyone. Equally. 

This is such a fundamental truth that setting it down like this seems idiotically self-evident: if most people believe the meaning of “racist” is “mean people who intentionally dislike others because of their race”[1], well, I’m afraid that is what it means.

The theorists’ high-handed attitude, enabled by superior social position, seems an uncomfortable fit for people who are attempting to critique traditional power-structures and the inequalities and oppressions they lead to. 

However, their approach appears to be working. The Cambridge dictionary online now has the following definition as its first entry: “policies, behaviours, rules, etc. that result in a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on the belief that their own race makes them more intelligent, good, moral etc. than people of other races.”

Merriam Webster has amended its definition to include “the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another”, after a request by an African-American woman, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd (BBC News 10th June 2020, “Racism Definition: Merriam-Webster to make update after request”) This is an admirably constructive bit of social campaigning by Kennedy Mitchum, who has done something, rather than simply protesting, but it is also a worrying example of a publication that is supposed to objectively describe language usage in a community, intentionally interfering with, and trying to influence, that usage.

It is Newspeak. The Capitalists are stealing the commons, AGAIN – our most precious communally owned assets. 

Because, surely the central principle of social justice is equality of opportunity, that what is allowed to one, must be allowed to all. And Merriam Webster is an American publication, and America is a country where the far right holds such power it can win a presidency[2], where the Republican administration in Florida can openly enact legislation explicitly designed to supress minority (and thus democrat) voting – to dismantle their own democracy. What could they do with dictionaries? 


[1] See my previous post.

[2] Albeit in a deeply flawed and only partially democratic system

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