Some observations of the past few months:
1. Harrow School (a £42,600+ p/a all-boys public school in the UK, and an essential part of the (as many would argue, actually oppressive) British ruling-class infrastructure)* is currently offering extracurricular classes in gender and sexuality studies to its Lower Sixth students (aged 16 or 17). The ‘cultural politics’ they pick up in these seminars are promised to be ‘useful…for any degree in the humanities’. To what degree can an ideology actually help the disempowered if the language and concepts associated with it are easily taken and disseminated within engines of privilege to help those most privileged maintain cultural fluency, and thus their own grip of power? What does this prove about Anglosphere humanities academia, a system outwardly obsessed with difference and giving voices to the voiceless?
Our most powerful politicians make predestined journeys from rich families to expensive public schools (especially Eton and – hmm, funny, that – Harrow) to exclusive Oxbridge members’ clubs to the Houses of Parliament. Now future generations can make that same journey, aided not only by family connections and interview coaching, but also by specialist training to help them assimilate, suspicion-free, into the New Academia of difference studies. Mark my words: in twenty years’ time, our rulers will have benefitted from all the same connections and monetary privileges as their predecessors, but it’ll be fine because they will know how to say things like ‘Black bodies’ and ‘queer epistemology’, proving, again, their suitability (a Foucauldian Mandate of Heaven) to rule over the uninitiated plebeians.
2. Brandeis University in the US costs upwards of $70k per year, and its admissions team take legacy status (eg. whether family members attended) into account when processing applications, essentially helping to preserve generational wealth and status. It’s fine though – its new attempt at listing Oppressive Language clearly turns it into a force for societal good (and definitely not just a sieve for sorting the uneducated poors from the virtuous upper-middle class).
I’m sure other rage-bait enthusiasts will be familiar with some of their more egregious Oppressive Language guidelines (‘picnic’ is racist now, and ‘trigger warning’ suddenly carries harmful connotations of violence – who knew?), but this section proved most chilling to me:
I beg you to give this a good long think. The people most affected by the circumstances listed on the left are clearly also most likely to be economically disenfranchised, subsequently less likely to hold the cultural or social capital to do well in the education system and thus also very unlikely to be initiated into these upper-echelon linguistic rituals. As a result, those with the greatest proximity to and at the greatest risk from addiction, prostitution, the prison system, modern slavery and domestic abuse are bound to become robbed of the ability to describe these experiences and the processes that govern them while being taken seriously by those in positions of power, who will have been educated at institutions like Brandeis and trained to see the above substitutions as correct by default.
Person-first language (sidenote) makes little sense as a mark of respect in a wider global context – English tends anyway to list larger or more important things last, and this isn’t even a universal default, as you’ll see if you compare the method of giving place names in our language (‘Hyde Park, London, England’) with the method used in Mandarin and other languages of the Sinosphere (‘England, London, Hyde Park’). There is thus little meaningful difference between, for example, ‘person of colour’ (or POC) and ‘coloured person’, beyond the implications they hold about their speakers; the former is pleasingly woke and signals familiarity with a certain set of online politics presumed progressive, the latter isn’t and does not.
This has carried over to my own university experience: those involved in the ultra-left Students’ Union use lexical wokeness as in-group signalling, making sure to campaign for ‘womxn’ and ‘QTPOC’ in such a way as to exclude the linguistically uninitiated from being read as legitimate student politicians. One of my strangest encounters on campus involved nonchalantly asking the ‘Womxn’s Officer’ why the ‘x’ was there and being amazed as I found out that, even though she had personally advocated for this annoying and alienating language-game, she genuinely had no idea. ‘Womxn’ served only as a discreet way of saying that those dissatisfied or unfamiliar with alt-left conceptions of gender identity would not be welcome at female-focused SU events or on campus.
Lexical wokeness is the new public-school slang – it’s a marker of privilege (bundled with the type of education given to the upper-middle class, or acquired by the leisure classes as they tap through their Instagram infographics on breaks from their pleasant jobs) and a shibboleth (those failing to use it correctly are treated as illegitimate, bigoted, not true members of the in-group). Leftist organisations who presume to control the ways their members use language cannot truly be leftist organisations, advocating for working-class people; they are woke versions of Henry Higgins at best and actively oppressive at worst. This focus on language only serves to prevent the arguably least privileged in society – the degree-less, the homeless, the elderly, those without Internet or library access – from being taken seriously and assumed innocent when arguing in their own interest.
*Read Posh Boys by Robert Verkaik for more on UK public schools – I wholeheartedly believe that this system needs to be dismantled before any true economic mobility is achievable in my country, not just softened (as is happening now) with rainbow flags, Butlerian gender studies and ethnically diverse web design.