Switching the code for social harmony

Our shared culture is being divided by boiling resentment

Scene of Inquisition; Francisco de Goya, 1808-12

Last week, BBC Radio Four broadcast a programme about “code-switching”.

This term started life in linguistics, where it means alternating between two or more languages during a conversation. 

Now, though, it’s become a weapon on the identity politics battleground. Black culture warriors complain they feel under pressure to “code-switch” in order to conform to white society in language, tone, dress, body language and behaviour.

The BBC programme was presented by Lucrece Grehoua, who was born in Britain but whose parents came from Ivory Coast. She claimed that she and other black people were required to “code-switch” in order to be accepted into middle-class white culture with which, she claimed, they had little in common.

Really? Precisely which bit of this culture was alien to her? The middle-class bit, or the white bit?  Come to that, what exactly is “white culture”? Or is it just that white people are allegedly all middle-class, or all middle-class people are allegedly white? 

Anyway, poor Grehoua had been forced to undertake an “unending journey into poshness, pronouncing all my words in a different way” and adopting a “high-pitched voice” to sound more “accommodating”.  

It wasn’t possible, she said, to be “black and direct”. People like her had to shed their “Multicultural London English”, known as MLE, which featured neologisms such as “innit” instead of “isn't it”. This effort was, apparently, exhausting.

I listened to all this astounded. Quite apart from the anti-white racism and risible equation of “white” and “middle-class”, she was racialising and anathematising something that just about everyone does at one time or another.

People constantly switch idiom, clothing or behaviour to adapt to different circumstances. Like many lower-class people from all ethnicities who are ambitious for their children, my own poorly-educated parents ensured I was taught Standard English and Received Pronunciation in order to have better prospects than they did.

People put on smart clothes for a job interview. Teachers will adopt one way of speaking for their staffroom colleagues and another for their pupils in the playground. A man who normally talks in profanities may moderate his language when going for lunch with his in-laws. None of this has got anything to do with racism or “white” culture.

Given that all this is entirely normal and commonplace, how could Grehoua be so unaware of it? How did she instead arrive at such a perverse conclusion? 

The answer is that identity politics teaches its adherents that they are victims and – fantastically – encourages them to construct their entire identity around that sorry and disempowering claim. This removes any personal responsibility for their circumstances, substituting instead boiling resentment against the people who are believed to control the society in which these “victims” feel they haven’t prospered. Since western society is historically largely white, attacking white people thus becomes – grotesquely – an ethnic liberation movement.

In America, a sub-group of the National Council of Teachers of English is demanding that teachers stop teaching black students to “code-switch”. Its activists go further, demanding the abolition altogether of Standard English which they call in their manifesto “anti-Black linguistic racism and white linguistic supremacy”.

This manifesto calls on teachers to 

stop using academic language and standard English as the accepted communicative norm, which reflects White Mainstream English… Teachers and researchers acknowledge that socially constructed terms such as academic language and standard English are false and entrenched in notions of white supremacy and whiteness that contribute to anti-Black linguistic racism… STOP telling Black students that they have to “learn standard English to be successful because that’s just the way it is in the real world." No, that’s not just the way it is; that’s anti-Black linguistic racism. 

The manifesto demands that teachers “decolonize the mind (and/or) language” and states: “This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!”

This is not only destructive but also self-destructive. For Standard English is a great leveller and equaliser. It enables people to become more intelligible, which eases communication and improves relationships. 

Instead of a babel of dialects which erect linguistic barriers and set us apart from each other, it helps everyone speak a common language. Its proposed abolition is a move to destroy our shared culture. 

Worse still, these radicals would bar white people from using black language, which they say would be “engaging in Black linguistic appropriation.” So this “linguistic justice” would seem instead to be a declaration of racial war.

If anything, it’s white people who are currently having to “code switch” under pressure. They’re having to change much more than accents or grammar. They’re being forced to stifle reasonable views which transgress wokeish orthodoxies.

Take, as an example, what happened recently to Casey Peterson, an engineer  at Sandia National Laboratories in California. As reported in Manhattan Contrarian, Peterson and hundreds of his colleagues were sent by the company for training about “white privilege” and “systemic racism.”

A similar Sandia training session last year was quoted by a journalist as instructing employees that 

“white male culture” leads to “lowered quality of life at work and home, reduced life expectancy, unproductive relationships, and high stress.” It also forces this “white male standard” on women and minorities.  In a subsequent session, the white males must publicly recite a series of “white privilege statements” and “male privilege statements.” They must accept their complicity in the white male system and their role in creating oppressions.

Peterson distributed in protest a video featuring quotes from this year’s training. Within hours, Sandia executives had locked him out of the company's electronic network and scrubbed his communications from its internal servers.

Or take Gary Garrels, formerly the senior curator of painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. As reported in New Criterion, he shocked a meeting in July by saying “we will definitely still continue to collect white artists” because not to do so amounted to “reverse discrimination”. As a result, he was forced to resign.

In Britain, companies and institutions are following suit. The British Library’s chief librarian, Liz Jolly, has claimed racism is “a creation of white people”.  Staff have declared a racial “state of emergency” at the museum. The Telegraph reported:

In response to this emergency, an internal report called for the removal of statues of the library’s founding fathers, replacing “Eurocentric” maps, and reviewing collections of western classical music which staff branded part of the “outdated notion” of western civilization.

… Other recommended actions include reducing the number of European maps on display, being “tools of power”, and reviewing the presence of busts of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, whose revered status is part and parcel of “western civilisational supremacy”.

Other staff who want to “decolonise” the museum have claimed that racial “colour blindness” and believing mankind is “one human family” are examples of “covert white supremacy”.

All decent people should surely abhor prejudice, whoever the target may be. Obviously, black people have suffered greatly from racism and many still do. That’s why thousands of well-meaning people have supported Black Lives Matter.

What we’re seeing, though, is something very different from an agenda of fairness and equality. It is instead the apogee of victim culture based on a near-pathological inferiority complex and projection of moral responsibility.  

This has resulted in the demonisation of white people and a sinister attempt effectively to beat whiteness out of the western mind altogether. 

It also devalues the evil of true racism. If reasonable people are now deemed racist merely because they are white, actual racists can now hide in plain sight. 

Above all, these witch-hunts, purges and transmutation of language represent the kind of behaviour we associate with Stalinism, fascism or the Spanish Inquisition. It’s as tyrannical as it is ridiculous. Where are the leaders who will stand up against it?

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