August 13, 2020
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
The English Language and Grammar are Racist! Get Rid of them!
In these revolutionary times it had to come sooner or later—any brief moment of serious reflection (rare these days, it seems) would reach this point inevitably. And it is not like it’s totally new, but this time it’s with us with a force that we should expect to grow inexorably and be picked up by the advance guard of the cultural fanatics as a magic talisman that will be foisted on our schools and on us.
If “white supremacy” and “racism” are purveyed and maintained by the use of the structures and historic foundations of “white” language and grammar, well then, that language and grammar must be undone, critically deconstructed, and “other” forms of written and verbal communication admitted as equal. Indeed, if our historic means of communication is so infected with traditional “whiteness,” is there not an extreme case for not only reducing its importance and influence, and recognizing, for instance, “black English,” but maybe even eradicating “white language”? After all, by the logic of this argument, language is and has been a “weapon” of historic cultural racism and control by “white oppressors.”
While this agenda has not yet asserted its dominance over the literary canon or the accepted norms and style for serious writing and communication, it has in fact had tremendous success in modes of communication such as Twitter and Instagram, which increasingly control cultural expression. And one can argue that it is just a matter of time before the swirling linguistic revolution, with its already de facto acceptance and everyday normalcy, reaches the college classroom and the publishing houses, as well as the media. Indeed, the entertainment industry no longer resists it to any great extent.
As a sign of the future, just recently I ran across the statement of the chairman of the English Department at Rutgers University (June 19). The open letter of chairman Rebecca Walkowitz will, no doubt, be the precursor of additional actions, some stated, others just implemented, to follow.
Here is how the Reuters News Service characterized Walkowitz’s intentions:
The letter expresses the Department’s plans to respond to the calls of BLM to “create and promote an anti-racist environment in our workplace, our classes, our department, our university, and our communities; and to contribute to the eradication of the violence and systemic inequities facing black, indigenous, and people of color members of our community.”
Within the letter Walkowitz outlines a series of concrete steps to promote departmental changes, including expanding the availability of seminars engaging with discussions of social justice and improving graduate student life.
This same section also includes Walkowitz talk[ing] about incorporating “critical grammar” into the university’s pedagogy. This approach, according to Walkowitz, is meant to “challeng[e] the familiar dogma that writing instruction should limit emphasis on grammar/sentence-level issues so as to not put students from multilingual, non-standard “academic” English backgrounds at a disadvantage.
“Instead, it encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them w/ regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on ‘written’ accents,” the letter noted.
If you can read through the fashionable pseudo-intellectual framework that surrounds what Ms. Walkowitz is essentially saying, it is this: “we’re going to eliminate standards in grammar and writing, and let students who don’t speak or write ‘traditional English’ express themselves accordingly.”
And more ominously, there is the assertion that traditional modes of communication are inherently biased and oppressive. Is not the next step in this process a radical deconstruction in grammar? Already great works of our literary heritage have undergone this deconstructive process to reflect critically the goalposts of “woke” anti-racism and feminism, standards that now regulate how we read and interpret them.
Grammatical expression is next.
The logic, as I say, is inexorable. For the cultural revolution to succeed it must transform or suppress the language of the oppressors.
My friend Dr. Clyde Wilson’s solution to our academic problems grows more attractive by the day: “Napalm our universities,” he once wrote me. Although written mostly (I suspect) in a jocular vein, there is much truth to what Professor Wilson wrote and observed. Until we get control of higher education—and until our Republican-dominated legislatures stop buying into the dangerous practice of trying to outdo their Democratic cohorts in throwing millions of dollars at those financially-bloated sinecures of lunatic leftist plutocracy and revolution—there is simply no way we can even think about saving our culture, much less restoring it.