I like to think of this column as a PSA — Public Service Announcement — for old people. Keep in mind, this is from a person who still thinks “cool” is a cool word to use. I am a writer and most of us love language and love words, so it is somewhat dismaying to realize how far out of the new vocabulary loop I am.
Such unworldliness could be explained in part by prolonged isolation required during the pandemic. The other more likely explanation is prolonged exposure to the former president who used the bully pulpit to trash words and phrases such as political correctness and bipartisanship. I stopped listening and suspect I am not alone in turning a blind ear to his crushing the concepts of decency and cooperation.
But I have realized that I need to catch up. Wouldn’t it be cool for me to be more “with it”?
Here is my list for today: Latinx; “woke”; “cancel culture”; white privilege
I used Merriam-Webster (M-W) as my go-to for the official definition since they do not indulge in editorializing or politicizing, just defining and providing a service to those of us out of touch.
I first heard the term “Latinx” when I had the privilege of sitting in on a discussion around equity and inclusion. I didn’t interrupt the discourse to ask, “Hey, why the x?” because I knew it referred to Hispanic or people of Spanish or Latin America origin.
I assumed incorrectly, as it turned out that it was a term intended to provide a generic definition. Rather, it is meant to use a term that was gender neutral.
Think about it. A Latino reference refers to a male and a Latina reference refers to a female. Duh! That’s not difficult to get especially if you are “woke.”
The above just outed me as not being “woke.” I began to hear “woke” mostly in commentary from people of color who referred to others as “woke” or “not woke.” I did think about its meaning and assumed somewhat correctly that it had something to do with becoming aware of something that had always been there but was unseen.
M-W tells us it’s a byword of social awareness that started in 2008 with the release of Erykah Badu’s song “Master Teacher.” A sample lyric: “Even though you go through struggle and strife, to keep a healthy life, I stay woke.”
Woke, or awareness of racial injustice, was adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement and expanded to calling upon others to be woke and stay woke around the incidents of police killings of unarmed black men. Indeed, the videos of incidents woke many of us white folks horrified at the utter brutality exercised in the smallest of incidents, and, in some cases, without incidents.
Removing confederate flags and statues, among many things, is a symbol of being woke to their presence as celebrations of slavery. The removals and rejection triggered what we call the right wing — in fact, the body, heart and soul — of the GOP to ridicule being woke and assert a certain kind of cultural elitism on the part of those that have seen and strongly oppose the killings or still practice “political correctness.”
Topping their own campaign to malign any sense of the dignity of awareness, the GOP appropriated another term born in the black culture: “cancel culture.”
In a twist, the combative GOP turned “cancel culture” into an accusation that “others” were canceling their culture. Oddly, they were also claiming Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and a few Dr. Seuss books as their culture. This seemed odd to me; I thought the GOP had a bit more substance than that.
Turns out the “others” were the businesses deciding to make changes on their own without outside pressure.
“Cancel culture” apparently has it roots in “Your Love is Canceled” written by Black composer/lyrist/band leader/guitarist/plus Nile Rogers (1981). An arrogant lady friend did something he didn’t like so he canceled their relationship and wrote a song.
M-W tells us “cancel culture” refers to “mass withdrawal of support from public figures or celebrities who have done things that aren’t socially accepted today. The practice of ‘canceling’ or mass shaming often occurs on social media platform such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.”
Given that definition, I would argue that even though it may have been born through black music, FOX, Newt Gingrich and the former president were early adopters.
Perhaps we should point out that oppression and bigotry are attempts, often realized, to cancel rights of entire groups of people; take voting, for example.
Moving from “woke” through “not woke” to white privilege …
“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”
Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay in 1988 describing the concept of white privilege. She wrote that white people tend not to recognize they are able to move with ease in the society.
As one of my friends put it, “We don’t even have to think of these things” … things McIntosh listed such as, “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed” in her list of 50 examples of white privilege in daily life.
“I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race,” is another.
McIntosh makes the point that white privilege is not being mean to or calling non-white people names, that is ignorant bullying at best and hate crimes at worst. Rather, it’s being unaware of the advantages being white brings and disadvantages of being nonwhite. It’s not being woke.
We can use language to divide, to hurt and to hate. Or we can use language to learn, think about happenings from different angles, to talk, to listen.
Despite all some people’s best efforts, the world will not start spinning backwards. Best to move forward with it.
Wouldn’t that be cool!