Over the years, the “correct” words used to inoffensively refer to certain groups have changed with some regularity. There was a time when a decent person would call a black person a “negro,” as that was the fashion. Now, it’s African American or black. Or Black, with a capital “B,” although there doesn’t seem to be much consistency at the moment. But don’t you dare use the word “negro.”
Fair enough. When there is no purpose to offend anyone, most of us are happy to use whatever word is preferred. And if that word later changes, that’s fine too.
But then came “Latinx.” It didn’t come from my Hispanic friends or clients, but from the media.
On the other hand, nobody save a few carping conservatives found anything unusual when Elizabeth Warren, possible Democratic front-runner, began conducting her outreach to Hispanic voters using the term “Latinx.” (Though she did take a little flak, after the first Democratic debate, for pronouncing it “Latin-X.”)
But if Warren’s linguistic move seemed normal to journalists — in our world, the phrase “Latinx” is increasingly commonplace — it’s still a curious one for a politician doing outreach. There’s very little evidence that “Latinx” is a thing that many Hispanics or Latinos call themselves, at least in the kind of numbers that normally determine how political candidates talk.
The rationale behind Latinx was obvious. Spanish words are masculine or feminine, and replacing the last vowel with an “X” made them gender neutral. What was curious about the choice was that there was no necessary nexus between being Spanish speaking and being so concerned about gender neutrality, but whatever. If that’s what people of Hispanic heritage preferred to be called, that’s cool. Except it turned out that it wasn’t.
[L]ast week a progressive pollster ran the numbers and found that it hasn’t caught on at all: “Despite its usage by academics and cultural influencers, 98 percent of Latinos prefer other terms to describe their ethnicity. Only 2 percent of our respondents said the label accurately describes them, making it the least popular ethnic label among Latinos.”
The poll shows that the preferred word was “Hispanic.” This was what my friends and clients told me. When I asked one pal if he wanted to be called Latinx, his reaction was “fuck you, maricon.” He was kinda cool with what he was, and didn’t really take well to having his language neutered.
The point here isn’t really whether Latinx is a good word or a bad word, or whether the ungendering of romance languages is performative or substantive. The point is that whoever is coming up with these notions of what is, or is not, acceptable, is substituting their own sensibilities for the poor oppressed and marginalized people who apparently can’t speak for themselves.
But just as often the language of P.C. has more to do with imposing elite norms of discourse on a wider population that neither necessarily wants them nor fully understands their purpose. This is a particular issue as highly educated white liberals become more progressive on racial issues than many African-Americans and Hispanics; in that context the language that dominates progressivism often emerges out of a dialogue among minority activists and academics and well-meaning white liberals, without much engagement with the larger minority population, its assumptions and habits and beliefs.
The same folks who see racism or sexism under every rock, on behalf of others to prove their wokeness and allyship, believe themselves entitled to dictate the new word choices for those of us insufficiently woke, and for those on whose behalf their well-intended revisionism is meant. It’s not that they are wrong, but that they are so deep and smart that the poor Hispanics, the 98% of them who don’t want their help, just don’t realize the worthiness of their progressive fixes.
Then again, for the 2% of Hispanics for whom Latinx is the only word that doesn’t do violence to their ears, why shouldn’t the other 98% just suck it up and live with this new woke word for their sake? Aside from the fact that this new word erases their language.
Either way, it makes no difference to me. If Hispanics prefer Latinx, so be it. If I think it’s just another childish indulgence of the woke, so what? It’s not my call. It’s their call. Except Hispanics want nothing to do with it either, so apparently it’s the call of Woke Elites on behalf of the as-yet insufficiently woke Latinx folk.
And even if 98% of Hispanics aren’t into it yet, they will surely be when the next bureaucracy, established at the Ministry of Truth, issues its guidance and the Hispanic heretics are marched before it to genuflect on their offensiveness. After all, who better to make sure Hispanics are called by the properly inoffensive word Latinx than their White Knights of Wokeness?