Idiotic Idioms

Identity Politics is changing our language in order to advance its agenda. One example is “people of color.” Hemingway would have convulsed at such a laborious construction. Does its nearly Global use today  suggest  that “people of whiteness” should also be adopted for consistency? While the simpler “colored people” technically has the same meaning, perhaps its potential racist connotation can be avoided with another simple term such as “minority.”

Another example that is nearly mandatory is “enslaved people” instead of slaves. The true meaning is the same, but presently the first expression is a codified way of signaling the writer’s awareness that slavery was evil. It simultaneously, and falsely, implies that those who do not use the term,  deny the evil in slavery.  In reality, everybody knows that slavery was, and remains, wicked. There’s no valid need for another tortured construction to restate the obvious.

Some words have gained new meanings. One example is “problematic,” which has come to mean “blasphemous” among Civil War historians. Explaining that the typical Rebel soldier fought to defend his homeland because 70% of Confederate families did not own slaves, for example, is “problematic” because the first seven cotton states seceded to protect slavery. That makes the defense-of-the-homeland-motive false and a “blasphemous” denial that the Civil War was all about slavery.

Another new definition for “privilege,” for example, is SHUT UP! It slipped in the backdoor fifty-five years ago when President Lyndon Johnson launched his War of Poverty to help the underprivileged. Once scholars deconstructed the word they realized that it implied the existence of a privileged class. The easy target was the white male.

Once white male privilege became a foundation of Identity Politics, the elite segued the meaning of “terrorist” to include postbellum Southern white males. None of those males, by the elite understanding, labored as sharecroppers under conditions nearly identical to black males well into the twentieth century.

Political activists use semantics to form their narrative and use their narrative to shape our culture. Unfortunately, the result is an increasingly totalitarian culture with a corrupted connection to history. That’s why Confederate memorials are being destroyed and removed.

About Philip Leigh

Philip Leigh contributed twenty-four articles to The New York Times Disunion blog, which commemorated the Civil War Sesquicentennial. He is the author of U.S. Grant's Failed Presidency, Southern Reconstruction (2017), Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies (2015), and Trading With the Enemy (2014). Phil has lectured a various Civil War forums, including the 23rd Annual Sarasota Conference of the Civil War Education Association and various Civil War Roundtables. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology and an MBA from Northwestern University. More from Philip Leigh

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