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June 28, 2021 | 7: 49pm | Updated June 28, 2021 | 7: 49pm
Brandeis University has received heavy backlash over its "Oppressive Words" list.
Brandeis University got some unwanted publicity last week when its “Oppressive-Words List” became public. The list — created by students and published by the school’s Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center — is a lexicon of forbidden words that takes woke language policing to new depths of idiocy.
Avoiding these words, the university says, will prevent those who have “experienced violence” from being further hurt. The rules aren’t mandatory, but by allowing the list to be circulated on an official site, Brandeis has lent its authority to a thought-stifling mechanism — a tragic turn events for a school named after Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, an ardent free-speech champion.
Among the verboten words: “picnic” (because of a bogus claim that the word is associated with anti-black lynchings in the South) and “trigger warning” (because the word “trigger” might evoke violence; who knew that college professors issuing trigger warnings in their syllabi were actually . . . triggering their traumatized students?).
It got worse this week when Gabriel Brahm, a respected scholar and a fellow at the Brandeis Summer Institute for Israel Studies, was warned not to post about the controversy on a school listserv. Brahm declared that he would withdraw from further participation on the forum rather than be censored on a site ostensibly dedicated to discussions of political controversies.
The words on Brandeis University’s list include “picnic” and “trigger warning.”Google Maps
Such forbidden-word lists have the effect of steering public discussions to the hard left, by warping language itself to the contours of woke ideology. No wonder even some old-school liberals are speaking out. Feminist literary icon Joyce Carol Oates poked fun at the list, noting that while it bans “picnic,” it doesn’t ban the word “lynch” itself or any number of other actually racist terms.
The stupidity of the list’s content deserves some extended treatment.
The document recapitulates a long-debunked claim that the expression “rule of thumb” stems from a justification for violence against women; a 18th-century English judge, runs the canard, called a “rule of thumb” his judgment that a rod as thick as a thumb is permissible for use by husbands disciplining their wayward wives.
The document also seeks to erase from conversation such inoffensive language as “take a shot at,” “killing it,” “you guys,” “ladies and gentlemen,” “no can do,” as well as objectively descriptive terms such as “prostitute,” “addict,” “mentally ill,” “homeless,” “wheelchair-bound” and even “victim” and “survivor” on the dubious grounds that they are hurtful.
This is all fodder for satirists, but it’s more dangerous than that. It stems not so much from the ignorance of the students than from the leftist ideology they’re being fed by Marxist academics who want to deconstruct American society and values. Each banned word serves to back up critical-race-theory dogma by removing various swaths of reality from linguistic access.
That Brandeis, which was founded as a haven for Jewish scholars and students at a time when anti-Semitism was widespread, is the source of this atrocity is more than ironic. CRT and intersectionality, which define Jews as “privileged” and “white,” have acted as a permission slip for Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism.
Like the way students in China’s Cultural Revolution used Mao’s “Little Red Book” to intimidate their teachers, this list, which will likely be copied elsewhere, will make it even harder for non-woke faculty and students who already have to walk on eggshells to avoid being canceled.
Ideas like critical race theory and intersectionality may first see the light of day on college campuses, but as we’ve seen in the last year, what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus. Since the George Floyd incident last year, the left is deploying these seemingly fringe notions to justify defunding police and rewriting public-school curricula nationwide.
As Brahm says, “We’re all living on college campuses now.”
It’s time for more professors and students to stand up to the radical bullies who are driving this insanity. The censors may start with what they call bad language, but in the long run, the real target of these would-be tyrants is every American’s freedom of speech.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org.
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