Fueling the Cult of Resentment

The Racial Politics of Grammar Correction
The Week—December 1, 2013
A minority student group at the University of California, Los Angeles, is accusing a professor of racism for correcting grammar and punctuation in minority students’ assignments. The group, Students of Color, says ‘the grammar lessons are acts of micro-aggression’ that have created ‘a hostile class climate.’ Professor Val Rust said he was just trying to help students, but conceded they ‘don’t feel that is appropriate.’

I’ve been seeing signs of proper spelling and grammar being politically incorrect all over the Internet for a couple of years now. It’s not really surprising considering the war between liberal and conservative fundamentalists. Political fundamentalists will grab at anything, no matter how graceless or unproductive, to preserve their identity. If I showed this article to the very liberal community here, they would have no choice but to agree that correcting minority students’ grammar truly is hostile and aggressive and inappropriate, because they are the enablers who make claims like this possible.

True believers of either party are parodies of themselves. Blind-faith liberalism must be a gene just like religious zealotry–I don’t think followers can help it. I want to be one too, to lift this shame of not belonging, to fit in, to be able to sleep at night because I’m so damn right. I want to be convinced—but it’s as impossible to have a discussion with a devout liberal as it is asking a Jehovah’s Witness to explain their fervor. I’ve tried.

Last week one of my cleaning customers referred me to her neighbors, two feminist ladies. After my customer gave them my name and number, the two women said: She’s not a Christian, is she? No, my customer said, she’s an atheist. But what if my name were Juanita? Those women wouldn’t have dared ask if I was a Christian, they would’ve assumed and accepted it without a bleat.

In the very liberal LGBT community in this town, huddled together in colorful houses, everyone has intricate metal crosses and Our Lady of Guadalupe artwork all over their walls both inside and out. So, uh, the strong Christian faith of Latin America is what, quaint? Artsy? Adorable? Are the artifacts of the religion 90% of Latinos embrace just trendy, whimsical knickknacks? Doesn’t that seem kind of insulting, as if implying that nonwhite Christians are not smart enough to know any better? Why are they not held to the same intolerance shown to white Christians?

There are plenty of Latino holy-roller churches here. That’s OK though, right? Why? You can’t keep telling me ‘it’s a cultural thing’ over and over, I demand better answers than that.

The voices of quietly questioning individuals who despise politics are not welcome here. It’s not enough that I support gay marriage (or, more honestly, whatever), and have been an atheist since I was a tween, the liberals here want all of my devotion. It’s assumed I feel exactly like they do about everything–that’s made clear by the political proclamations they make within the first five minutes of meeting me, without knowing anything about me. It’s my nature to ask questions, but if you dare admit you don’t believe the exact same thing they do, they’ll either shun you or yell at you. Both have happened to me here on numerous occasions, to the point where honestly I’d rather hang out with the rednecks. They’re a lot more fun, especially when drinking and eating carbs.

Is this what ‘belonging’ is all about? The word ‘conservative’ is now an obscenity, and everyone is encouraged to blame them loudly for all that is evil—in conversation (which is kind of joke these days), in TV shows, movies, stand-up comedy, social media (where it’s mandatory for all hip people to pass along link after link to news articles where conservatives have committed some imagined atrocity), and even in dictionary examples (that’s where they use the word in a sentence). It’s the worst thing you can be, and it’s saturated every layer of our society. Strangely though, I don’t know many people here who are raging conservatives, but I know an awful lot of angry liberals. Both are unpleasant and scary and convinced of their superiority.

If I prayed, I would pray for a warrior to rise up out of the ruins of America with brilliant ideas on how to get us working again. Not a Democrat, not a Republican, not someone whose master is a political party. An inventive, wise prodigy who wouldn’t make me feel ashamed of proofreading my work. No chance of that happening, so let the hate mail begin.

 

29 responses to “Fueling the Cult of Resentment

  1. We’re getting the same sort of polarisation over here in the UK (though the term “grammar Nazi” is still only applied mostly in jest). (Mostly.) Partly I put it down to our entrenched news media and our submerged historical preoccupation with social class, something you don’t have in the US. There is certainly an opinion that our present Government is led by a Cabinet full of millionaires, that all the people at the top table (of whatever party) are “posh boys” with no real idea of ordinary peoples’ lives. But the Internet has made it worse.

    British Liberals have been badly tarred by their participation in our coalition government, whereby they’ve had to ditch some of their principles and policies. The fact that the Conservatives have taken the opportunity of the financial crisis to impose a programme of fiscal austerity that goes way beyond what they offered in their election manifesto hasn’t helped them.

    We also have a division in our Left; in the late 1990s, Tony Blair and his “New Labour Project” moved the party to the centre ground to try to get re-elected, putting the traditional Labour Left into the political wilderness. This has resulted in Labour becoming hard to distinguish from the Conservatives at times. People are tending to ditch both parties, turning to radical outliers, blaming Europe or just giving up on politics altogether.

    The British Left is beginning to regroup, but it’s taken 15 years. They’re not immune to the sort of “me-too”-ism you describe of your liberals, but they are more down-to-earth than the metropolitan “soft left”. And they do carbs, too.

    • The Internet definitely makes it worse. And most comments are signed by Mr. and Ms. Anonymous.

      We might not have started out with social classes but they sure do push them on us. I take these surveys for extra money and they all show you a graphic of a ladder and want you to pick a rung. I don’t even know what middle class means anymore—what if that’s generally where you were born but have fallen on hard times like so many have. Kids now don’t have the same opportunities their parents did so technically that would put them in a lower class. I do not believe our current political system can fix this or anything else.

      What if a candidate came out and didn’t claim a party? In Europe, here or anywhere? Wouldn’t that be awesome to not have half of the population automatically disgusted before they even hear what he or she has to say? It would be a great experiment.

      Many Americans have given up on politics too. It’s all such a hoax. Every day I read how the economy is improving and they have ‘numbers’ to prove it. It’s just not true from where I sit.

      • We do have the ability for candidates in our elections to stand without a party, if they can raise the deposit to stand. Very, VERY occasionally, they even have some success; about ten years ago, a campaigner for a local hospital stood for Parliament on that ticket, and because it was a big local cause, they won their seat and even got re-elected the next time around. But usually, a non-party candidate only polls a few tens of votes or a couple of hundred at best, out of a constituency of some 10 – 20,000. There was also an instance of an “anti-corruption” candidate standing in the 1997 General Election, but that was a very special case and the other major opposition parties withdrew to allow this candidate a clear shot at a very juicy and corrupt target. It helped that the candidate was a fairly well-known television journalist with a pretty good track record.

        Generally, though, non-party candidates stand very little chance in our elections, even down to city council level. Part of that is down to our news media ignoring them; part of that is also down to their only having limited resources with which to campaign and fight the election. I understand that sort of thing sometimes happens in the US as well?

        • I’m pretty sure the U.S. is littered with potential candidates who could not raise the 10,000 votes needed to qualify for a primary, and it comes down to money. Attacking your opponent in ads is expensive. Another disqualifier is the inability to weather having your personal life ripped apart. The Obama campaign in 2008 came in at $730 million with much of it from huge corporations like Google or the U. of California, or their political action committees; industries as a group, and very wealthy individuals. News media outlets likely ignore underdogs because they have already invested in a candidate. No matter how bad the economy, it does not affect campaign contributions, they get bigger every election.

          So this is a life goal a person must begin to prepare for years before. It seems quite impossible to cripple the machine. We do have a list of smaller parties but people don’t vote for them even if they believe in them because they don’t have a chance.

  2. Trendy, whimsical knickknacks? Love it, and as usual, spot on. Great to have you back Debra! How are you? Makes me wish I had fanatical beliefs as well, that way everything would be everyone elses fault, and I could sleep at night, safe in the knowledge that my fellow scaremongering hoardes would just ‘sort it all out’. If they didn’t, well Hell, it wasn’t ‘our’ fault anyway. ;)

    • How am I? I’ll let you know as soon as I get this gag out of my mouth. Fanaticism does give one a certain power and if that’s all we’re left with we’re going nowhere. For all of our ‘civilization,’ we allow the most primitive to rise and dictate. I wish I was a fearless fanatic too, it must afford a real fuzzy warm feeling of belonging that we’re all told we must have to avoid dying before our time from mental or physical illness. Ugh. I have to nag you again—why aren’t you writing!!

  3. I know a few people who are self proclaimed liberals. In fact they are more militant in their views of how things should be than some of the dare I say it ‘conservative’ people I know. The thing that gets me is the shouting matches. When has screaming the odds ever really made anyone jump on board? I find myself either avoiding such people or annoyingly watering down or keeping my own opinions to myself, just so I don’t have to endure the endless debate of a person who has zero respect for anybody else’s views on life.

    • That’s exactly it—militancy only accomplishes compliance by fear, it doesn’t actually change anyone’s mind. I have to water down everything I say too. Having someone’s spit flying in my face is the last thing that’s going to win me over.

  4. Oh. My. Goodness.

    So, wait a minute. It’s OK if your spelling is atrocious, as long as you’re black, or “a person of colour”. Oh, for f**ks sakes. Surely that’s some kind of joke, right? Please, please tell me it’s a joke?

    It’s kind of like seeing a car wreck, and then wishing you could somehow “unsee” it.

    I was having trouble concentrating enough to be able to read the rest of your post after that. I’m sorry. My head started to spin and my eyes glossed over.

    Try to enjoy your day.

  5. No hate mail here.

    First, I read about that particular issue. Correcting grammar and spelling used to be considered a natural part of something called “education”. Today, we have Common Core and indoctrination, and a lowering of standards so breathtaking it feels like a punch to the solar plexus.

    There are days when I honestly believe there’s a direct line from “if it feels good, do it” to “I’ll spell words however I please, thank you very much. It’s your responsibility to figure out what I mean.” I just found out that the teaching of cursive writing has been stricken from the Common Core curriculum. When Rachel Jeantel, a primary witness in the Trayvon Martin case, said she couldn’t read cursive, I thought she had to be lying. Perhaps she wasn’t. My apologies to Ms. Jeantel.

    As for liberal and conservative fundamentalism, you are so on-target I wish your post could be printed on the front page of every newspaper in this country. “Either/or” seems to have won over “both/and”, at least in the sphere of policy and public discourse.

    Just this morning, I very quietly tip-toed out of a blog without leaving a comment because I’ve experienced both responses to honest comments there: shunning (the author no longer stops by my blog), and being yelled at. In real life, the same dynamics obtain, the primary difference being that they’re far more painful.

    One of the sad and inevitable results of all this can be self-censorship. I’ve had to fight that, myself. My current post has to do with the season of Advent. I spent more than a few minutes pondering whether I really wanted to “do that”. The tremendous irony is that I ended up getting snarky emails from both sides of the spectrum – from those who were disappointed that I’d posted something “religious” to those who were upset that I wasn’t “religious enough”.

    The good news is that getting those emails from both sides of whatever fence those readers seem to see set me to laughing. Your post is well-timed to make me even more cheerful, and feeling as though I may not be as alone as I thought. Well done!

    • After I read that article, I googled it, and out of a couple million hits, none were reported by MSM—bias by omission. Oops, looks like this won’t sit well, better leave it out. Glad you mention self-censorship because it’s been a constant source of suffocation for me as well, and the main reason I haven’t written much lately. I’ve become enormously self-conscious about speaking my mind about the issues that bother me the most.

      I don’t want to believe we’re a nation of either/or, but somehow it’s what’s pathetically available to choose from. Picking the wrong side wins you the contempt of the other side’s most aggressive mouthpieces—or like you said accusations that you’re not doing enough. There’s a creepy and calculated indoctrination many of us feel is being forced on us, and it’s an effective crusher of progress. It makes rational people—those not involved in policy—give up and let the bullies run the world.

      I would love to say to you Linda, write whatever you want. But if I can’t do it, it wouldn’t be an honest sentiment.

  6. Your awareness is beautiful. Leave them out there in the wilderness with their unconsciousness.

  7. I want to start a new political party called “common sense.”

    But maybe I should do a little research first. Has the dictionary definition changed? Maybe the Students of Color have rewritten it.

    • LOL yes in our imaginary world we could have Percepticrats and Rationalicans. They’d work together to put the U.S. back to work. Even with current government bloat they don’t have people who know how to do this.

  8. Very insightful Debra. I have mixed feelings on all of this. Language does evolve, otherwise we’d all still be talking like the lyrics in Beowolf, and I do not believe that anyone has ever written a code of language evolution so there is really no protocol here.

    That being said, the topic has nothing to do with racism. In fact, claiming so trivializes the issue to the point that the issue of racism is greatly reduced.

    And although most would consider me a political liberal some of my friends are shocked that I own guns, hunt and fish for food, and enjoy hanging out with regular folks who also are involved with this life style choice. When any group employs a dogma that excludes others because they behave differently it becomes what they supposedly abhor.

    A very good read here. Thank you.

    • Thank you Bill. Language must evolve or we stagnate. I have been working a (hopefully permanent) freelance job for the past year as a ‘reader’ for Oxford Univ. Press. I read enormous amounts of text from books and magazines (the Internet is for research but not allowed for citations) and submit about 100 new words a month, with their quotations which show current usage. Technology, science, medicine, business, food, sports, slang, foreign words—and many more subjects contribute thousands of new words to the English language every year. Many words already firmly established offer new senses. And lexicographers do track the evolution of English. ‘Racism’ is so overused that it’s losing its power, yet as a nation both the accusers and the accused are obsessed with it.

      But poor spelling, grammar, or punctuation cannot be compared to neologisms. Every language must have a structure that forms the basis of communication. Without grammar, we wouldn’t understand each other. It’s not some cryptic conspiracy forced on students by maniacal teachers, it’s what makes language work. And with the cutthroat job market those students will face, it would be wise to acquire any edge they can get. I believe ‘excellent communication skills’ is still one of the top requirements. Their resumes will speak for themselves.

      Sorry for going all grammar tyrant on you! Thanks for writing.

  9. Ever look at the grammar an spelling used in Beowolf? Just wondering. I’m not sure how these changes occur, but they do. The only constant that I can see is the 26 letters of the alphabet (in our language) and even that might change.

  10. If I prayed, I would pray for tolerance.

  11. If, one believes in rebirth, then death is inevitable, even necessary. Grammar, language, symbols, even computer code has a life, a period of usefulness. Large portions remain relevant, due to popularity I suppose or due to the stagnation of those who use it; bits and parcels never evolve (Conservatism and Liberalism a perfect example), . Perhaps if there was a little more death and more rising from the ashes in terms of the languages we would think without prejudice, be less confused and more decisive. Your hope for a new warrior to rise from the ashes is after all exactly what is needed. Not just one, but rather a infinite legion. For the life of me am not certain to what qualities they would require. Am not even sure we need leaders but rather facilitators.

    • I’m not anti-evolution, I’m pro-communication. It would be very hard for us to learn a new language, or for people to learn English without a structure in place. I don’t see sticking to structure, yet accepting thousands of new words into our language every year as stagnation. Many words and phrases become archaic over the years, as they should. But it can’t be forced, it happens naturally. Many times articles or posts or whatever are incomprehensible to me, so those writers have failed to communicate, which is too bad because isn’t that the point?

      I don’t know what qualities this Phoenix would need either. Selflessness, superpowers, and maybe a former stint as a bar bouncer?

  12. This is what happens when people are encouraged to think and put their thoughts to paper . . . Provided you spell correctly. I can see it now. Next we will spell phonetically by race. Have you considered how many different words or should I say variations of a word could be made if spelled as they sound by race? Oh I get it! They can write it as they like. The translations are available at the Book Center for $5.99, and yes there will be a test on this subject.

    As for our current political arena, it is simple. There is not a single politician in Office today that is doing his/her job. For a very long time politicians in America have been representing only themselves in every action they take. That is not their job. Their job is to take the voice of The People into the issues and speak for us on issues. They make laws, they lie, they waste tax dollars and then cut services necessary for the social growth of this Country. They close highways hindering the flow of traffic so they can dick around with other politicians. And, they lie, about everything. Everyone in Office needs to be voted out of Office and give this Country a fresh start with politicians that possess common sense, integrity, and a desire to do their job. ( I know, I may be asking the impossible. ) And by politicians/Office, I mean everyone from the appointed/elected City Officials to the Office of the President.

    Okay, all you folks that require translation of this document in a slang language other than English, remember the Book Center for $5.99. We accept cash, check, charge-cards, or chickens.

    ( Hi, like your blog.)

    • A good example of the power of language structure is the ease of communicating with citizens of other countries who have been required to learn English in school. I email a few people in India who write better than most Americans. So while I can’t understand people from California who are native speakers, I can discuss philosophy with people from New Delhi. People all over the world who are trying to learn English would be as lost as I without a plan. So go ahead and make up your own rules if you never plan on leaving your neighborhood…then again, the purchase of those translation guides could become mandatory. Or grammar simply banned.

      Except maybe for some small-town local city councils (we have one here that, when enough people organize with a grievance, they listen and act. We just accomplished something big (to us) here in regard to our awful dog pound. This is not possible in large cities). But yes our political system is rotten to the core. Their waste is a blight on progress, their speeches useless. Or they’re just plain egomaniacs. Do you think some politicians start out with good intentions but soon find out they can accomplish nothing and quickly dissolve into corruption?

      Haha, no checks! Thanks for stopping by.

      • I think everyone in Office is already part of the problem. They may have had good intent but they all have been corrupted by the system. I think allowing a politician to have a law degree is ridiculous. We need politicians of integrity and common sense, not those that know how to manipulate the law and know how to professionally lie.

        And, a Judge that allows a citizens rights be taken advantage of in Court, needs be removed from the bench.

        Cops that violate peoples rights with the opinion of “prove it” need to surrender their badge.

        Government Employees that act contrary to law because their position enables them to, need to find a job more suited to their stupidity.

        Every Court in the Country that intentionally disregards the Statute Of Limitations just to collect money needs to get Boss Hog off the bench.

        In any City that tickets parked cars after the street sweeper has already passed, should prosecute everyone from the Mayor down that is involved in this scam to rip off the people. The response that the street sweeper may have to return is bogus. Citing parked cars after the street sweeper has passed makes cops look like they are part of the “Good Ole Boy” network of cops. “watch for the speed traps.”

        Wouldn’t it be nice if you could count on your Government to protect your rights, instead of violate them?

  13. I have the feeling that you are wasted in America …

  14. Love it ! You articulated the US cultural environment perfectly . Thank you for taking the time to put whats astonishing everyday behavior into words .

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