ANDREW NEIL: It’s easy to scoff at woke nonsense like Oxfam’s language guide. But it’s not a fad – it’s a sinister cultural sea change
Oxfam apologised for the English language this week, describing it as ‘the language of a colonising nation’. It also counselled against using the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ because they ascribed ‘gendered roles’.
Thus, in this charity’s right-on eyes, has the language of Shakespeare (hiss) and Churchill (boo) — the most successful language the world has ever known — become a matter for regret and embarrassment, while simple, clear words that have stood the test of time are to be abandoned. Oxfam says it’s only offering guidance not prescription. Fair enough. But I wouldn’t fancy the career chances of any Oxfam staffer who cared to flout it.
Oxfam has come a long way since it was founded 81 years ago. There was a time in the dim and distant past when its primary purpose was to raise money from well-meaning, relatively affluent folks and use their donations to assuage the hunger pangs of the poor and downtrodden across the globe. It was a worthy cause.
Those days are long over. For some time now it’s been more associated with Left-wing agitprop than famine relief. Indeed, you almost get the impression feeding the famished is now seen by some in Oxfam as an annoying diversion from the far more important work of political activism.
Hence all the effort that’s gone into its 92-page ‘Inclusive Language Guide’. It won’t fill a single empty belly but it will sure warm the cockles of its increasingly woke staff, with its insightful injunctions to avoid using words like headquarters (‘implies a colonial power dynamic’), aid sector (‘cements’ idea of those with ‘resources’ giving ‘charitable aid’ — which I stupidly thought was the founding mission of Oxfam) and, incredibly, field trips (‘reinforces colonial attitudes’).
The 92-page report warns against ‘colonial’ phrases such as ‘headquarters’, suggests ‘local’ may be offensive and says ‘people’ could be patriarchal
The official advice from the charity – founded in Oxford in 1942 to relieve famine worldwide – attempts to revolutionise its staff’s language across a wide range of fields
The logic of that last one escaped me until I remembered that, after a teenage geography field trip (sorry) to the Scottish Highlands, we were all pretty fired up to retake India (or not — recollections vary).
Oxfam is especially obsessed with colonialism saying it is seeking to ‘decolonise our ways’. Somebody should tell it the British Empire hasn’t been a force in the world for quite some time. It’s easy for people to scoff at such woke nonsense (by the way don’t use ‘people’ which the charity says is synonymous with only men — who knew?) and Oxfam isn’t even in the vanguard of such efforts to subvert language and meaning.
Universities have been at it for years. The University of Southern California beat Oxfam to the punch by banning ‘field’ earlier this year (not just field trips) because of its ‘racist undertones’ for descendants of slavery. The university seems to think only slaves have ever worked in fields, which suggests you should avoid its history department.
The media is at it too. Politico, a major presence in Washington DC and a growing force in political reporting on this side of the Atlantic too, advised its journalists over a year ago to avoid words such as mankind (sexist), biological woman (exclusionary), third world (‘derogatory’), peanut gallery (apparently seats usually occupied by ethnic minorities) and, whereas Black should always be capitalised, white should not ‘in any instances’.
The Oxfam guide copies many of these injunctions. So does big business, which has embarked on a race to be woker-than-thou. This has fertilised the rise of a new breed of hucksters, charlatans and snake oil salesmen (sorry, persons), aka consultants, all bidding to advise business on how to use the correct, inclusive woke language.
Oxfam says it’s only offering guidance not prescription. Fair enough. But I wouldn’t fancy the career chances of any Oxfam staffer who cared to flout it
Released on Monday, the Oxfam publication tells staff not to say they ‘stand with’ people they support because it ‘potentially alienates people unable to stand’
For a fat fee, of course. Company CEOs are queuing up to pay, apparently indifferent to the fact that — as soon as they comply — the consultants will come up with even more rarified language rules (their business model depends on it). Even Nato has its own 36-page ‘gender-inclusive language manual’ with such pearls of wisdom as the need to call waiters and waitresses ‘servers’. I’m sure Ukrainian forces on the frontline are inspired by leafing through it as they wait for Nato arms to arrive while the Russians pummel them with another artillery barrage.
The European Union, naturally, published its own guide two years ago. But, not surprisingly given the number of languages involved, it made such a Horlicks of it that it had to be quickly withdrawn.
As I say, easy to scoff. But wrong. This is not the passing fad of a lunatic fringe obsessed with gender issues, race and colonialism — and the chance to virtue signal at every opportunity.
This is a cultural sea change brought about by the infiltration of the university campus into newsrooms, boardrooms, charities, media, civil service and public agencies.
It started in America and is now happening everywhere in the West, including Britain, as the Oxfam case so clearly illustrates. It will get much worse before it gets better, if it ever does.
For over a decade now, university graduates, especially those from the most elite universities, have left the campus for the labour force imbued with the latest nostrums and language of wokery and fired up by the latest trendy teachings on race, colonialism and gender issues.
Readers are told ‘these guidelines are not set rules and should not be viewed as restrictions’
Oxfam said in a statement yesterday: ‘This guide is not prescriptive but helps authors communicate in a way that is respectful to the diverse range of people with which we work’
They have done so in sufficient numbers to be feared by their bosses, who regularly capitulated to their demands. And as this generation climbs the greasy poll, they increasingly are the bosses.
Why the obsession with language, with demands for changes in usage which might be thought trivial, irrelevant, even pathetic? Because if you control the language, you’ve gone a long way to dominating the debate in this new age of identity politics.
By outlawing words with even the merest tangential link to race and colonialism — or, in reality, none at all — you are establishing that racism and colonial repression are the defining hallmarks of our society, as critical race theory mandates, and far more important than social class or social mobility or economic growth.
By insisting that biology can never take precedence over gender self-identity, and that the use of language must reflect that, you’ve pretty much handed over the argument to the transgender lobby. It’s long been a conceit of those most active in the culture wars that there’s no such thing as a culture war, that it’s just a myth promulgated by the Right, and that to be woke is just to be concerned about social justice (and who can object to that?).
The people we work with are not passive beneficiaries but are agents of their own development
It’s a clever tactic. But we shouldn’t fall for it.
The aim of today’s culture warriors is to change the face of society by replacing the concerns of the majority (prosperity, growth, opportunity) with their newer priorities (race, gender, anti-colonialism). They hope to do this not just by determining the language but by closing down debate. In offices and shop floors across the land, people are already walking on eggshells, terrified of saying what they think lest it offend those with the power and predilection to make the lives of any deviants miserable.
Robust debate is already being strangled as folks (an Oxfam-approved word, by the way) take refuge in platitudes and pablum so as not to upset the snowflakes. That’s how the new woke generations plan to win the war.
In the Budget, the Chancellor complained about the large number of over-50s who had left the labour force during the pandemic and not returned since. He proposed some measures to entice them back.
It did not dawn on him that one reason might be the spread of Oxfam-style language and behaviour manuals, which have made the workplace an alien, even dangerous place for older workers. It is safer to work from home — or not at all.
The truth is most people (sorry again) on the Right and Left do not share the cultural identity obsessions of Oxfam and its ilk. They’re more worried about paying the bills, keeping a job, getting the kids into a decent school.
They’re not racist and couldn’t care less about the British Empire. But they see the levers of power controlled by a new generation with a different agenda. They fear there’s nothing they can do about it. Or perhaps they can.
Within an hour of Oxfam taking to Twitter to defend its guide, it was forced to turn off the ‘reply’ function, such was the volume and vituperation of the responses.
Perhaps there’s hope for us yet.
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