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Clarence Page: ‘Wokespeak’ is changing faster than I can keep up
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Clarence Page: ‘Wokespeak’ is changing faster than I can keep up

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I remember when we were “colored.”

As in the NAACP, originally the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Then we became “Negroes,” as in “A group of Negroes was arrested today as they tried to register to vote in Mississippi.”

Then in the 1960s we became “Black,” as in “Black Power” and “Say it loud! I’m Black and I’m proud.”

Two decades later, Black leaders told news media that we would prefer to be called “African American” because as the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, it has more “cultural integrity.”

Then, as the diversity of racial and ethnic newsmakers and issues increased, the ancient label “people of color,” which dates back at least to the 1790s, regained popular usage.

And I marveled. I had lived long enough to see us go from “colored people” to “people of color.” Progress!

But, alas, the renaming game does not end there. Last summer’s protests and “racial reckoning” for social justice have given rise to a new vocabulary of racial, ethnic and gender awareness and activism.

Unfortunately, it often is happening at a faster pace than that with which cultural slow pokes like me can comfortably keep up. As one who still is trying, I sympathize with my fellow stragglers.

For example, among the latest additions to fashionable neologisms is “BIPOC,” an acronym for people who are Black, Indigenous or other people of color.

I get it. That echoes the longer standing LGBTQI, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and/or questioning. Sometimes it is expressed as “LGBTIQA,” with the “A” standing for “Asexual” or “Ally.”

Media seem to be settling on LGBTQ, but this, too, can change and undoubtedly will. Culture clashes are inevitable and patience too often seems harder to find.

Such are the ways of “wokespeak,” as conservatives derisively label the new language of the political activist and ivory tower academic left.

I knew something has changed when the new word “Latinx,” a gender-neutral version of Latino/Latina, began to catch on much faster among political activists than among actual Latinos/Latinas.

Another naming fashion concerns not just the nouns but also the pronouns that we use to identify ourselves and our gender, as if that were not clearly obvious for most of us.

When mail from your local politicians, for example, include “he/him/his” or “she/her/hers” as a courtesy after their signature on messages, you probably live in a pretty liberal neighborhood.

The idea, I am told, is to discourage people from taking someone’s gender identity for granted simply because of how they look. Silly me. I thought that how you look was a major element of one’s identity, gender or otherwise.

And I am further confused by the wish of many in the trans community to be referenced in the third person. Should I greet a trans friend with, “How are they doing today?”

Yes, I am told, as my life begins to sound increasingly more like a TV sitcom: “Page’s Predicaments.” Maybe Dave Chappelle is available.

Since I don’t want to offend, I take some comfort in my late mother’s consoling words after one of my many early embarrassments: “Your true friends will understand.”

Ah, but will they forgive? Unfortunately as the current times have become more liberated, they also have become more punitive, often in ways that silence dialogue when we need it most.

Yes, I’m talking about “cancel culture,” the modern etiquette of ostracism that tries not only to reprimand but to banish those who violate current norms and etiquette — even on a first offense.

I don’t want to make too much of “cancel culture,” since it often is exploited to feed a “victim mentality” among those who would rather gripe about their victimization than pursue constructive remedies.

Contrary to popular belief, cancel culture is not limited to the political left or to cultural progressives. Look, for example, at the ruckus being raised by conservative parents and their allies at school board meetings across America. They’re being victimized by “critical race theory”? That body of ivory tower scholarship isn’t even taught in public schools.

But the protesters don’t need real CRT to justify their anger. They’re already angry and frustrated that the world seems to be changing too fast without listening enough to them.

Politicians love to take advantage of frustrations like that, and the people who rely on power more than persuasion to bring about change only help them to do it.

Page’s column is provided by Tribune Content Agency.

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