Simple Words for Complex Times

There is great power in simplicity, simplicity of speech, simplicity of life in every form. The world has no patience with people who are superficial, who are trying to show off, who are trying to be what the world knows they are not

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(Booker T. Washington — From “The Virtue of Simplicity” in Character Building)

This is my inaugural post at this blog. I am hoping to work these essays out into a book and so this blog is the first draft of those ideas to be put in the public. I am going to avoid the following kinds of words or phrases; intersectionality, race is privilege plus power, cisgender, gender is a social construct, etc. Further, I am going to, as best as is practical, to avoid using descriptors like black, white, lesbian, straight, trans, etc. They are only useful as a shorthand, the kind of thing I might note in passing when creating a character. Which is not to say I won’t be referring to ethnicity but when I look at my wife, I don’t see a sexual orientation, I see the woman I love. We are not a married lesbian couple; we are a married couple consisting of two women. We are not a lesbian family; we are two women with an infant daughter. My wife is not white she is an American of Scots-Irish and German descent so she’s pale. I am not black but Negro. This is the adjective I choose to use because while it means ‘black’ in Spanish when used in English it becomes an ethnic group. My daughter is not biracial although she is multiethnic. She is Negro-German-Scots-Irish. These are all ethnic backgrounds. We are, all three of us, Americans.

There’s a group of people who have set themselves up as arbiters of what it means to communicate as a human to another human. They have set up very, very, complicated meanings to words that are otherwise pretty intuitive and then wrapped it all up in multisyllabic nonsense that sounds impressive, particularly to those of us who don’t have college degrees, but I’m here to tell you it is, as Shakespeare wrote, ‘all sound and fury signifying nothing’. ‘Intersectional’ is a word coined because identity politics inevitably leads to oppression Olympics. Intersectionality is just a way of making sure that the right people are the victims otherwise you get some really undesirable outcomes like a woman of my ethnicity enjoying a higher income and social capital with her husband and children than, say, a poor man who is an ethnic Scots-Irish resident living with his husband.

Seems kind of off-kilter when phrased that way, doesn’t it? Now, the words the arbiters of what it means to treat another equally and not with bigotry or prejudice would have me use would be ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, and gratutiously throw in ‘cisgender’ just for the look of the thing. Those words dehumanize people but referencing someone’s ethnic background is placing them within a culture. I can find no benefit to most of them that do not outweigh the downsides and it’s mostly downsides.

This way of thinking means conjuring up ever more counterintuitive explanations using phrases like ‘systemic racism’ which is a means by which we can have a racism without the presence of racists. It means redefining ‘white supremacy’ downward so that the mere fact that the largest ethnic groups in the nation, in some combination or another, overwhelmingly hail originally from somewhere in either the British Isles or Western Europe, is a sign of it. It isn’t but since ‘racism’ has been overused and ‘white privilege’ kind of sounds as hollow as it is, the rhetoric has to be wratchted up some more.

Human beings don’t talk about ourselves in that manner. I would never say “as a black woman we should raise our child like…” I would say “I think it important our daughter learn these values…” and they will almost certainly be informed by something I learned in my home or the AME church we attended but as a human I wouldn’t say it to my wife from a ‘black’ perspective. Even though I have a strong ethnic identity as a Negro I still wouldn’t phrase it that way.

So here, on this blog, in these times that are so confusing, I will not use the rhetoric of identity politics. It divides peoples and it debilitates individual souls. There is no reason for it. How a person came to manhood or womanhood is really none of my concern and so I will not use ‘trans-‘ to describe someone who transitioned simply because there’s no need to. I’m not going to destroy my writing trying to find ways to work in, ‘male, female, non-binary, agender, transgender…’ everytime I need to say ‘but among women…’.

Here, Trump will not be called a fascist or a Nazi unless and until he actually behaves in a recognizably National Socialist fashion. What he said about Charlottesville does not rise to the level of a Nuremberg Rally speech delivered by the torchlight of a hundred thousand Brownshirts. This is not a pro-Trump blog nor is it an anti-Trump blog. It is an American blog written by an American. It is not a Christian blog but it is written by a Christian. It is not a blog about being homosexual although it is written by a woman married to another woman. It is most certainly not an Antiracist blog although it is a non-racist one.

Simple human decency would go so much further than most of us believe if we would but give it a chance. As a start, let us purge our mouths and pens of these convolutions of language that do nothing except divide us. Let our language be human words to be heard by human ears, read by human eyes, and processed by human minds and hearts. Let us be simple in our speech even as we are deep in our ideas.