The weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that having a term for a reality or a concept makes it easier to notice that reality and easier to think about that concept, while not having a term for it makes thinking harder. As Orwell wrote in the appendix to 1984 on Newspeak:
Take for example the well-known passage from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government…
It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.
The editor of the NYT editorial page explains that all those incidents since BLM emerged of angry black men attacking police officers as vengeance can’t possibly be considered “Black Identity Extremist terrorism” because you are racist and therefore you are not allowed to have useful terms for phenomena:
The F.B.I.’s Black Phantom Menace
Andrew Rosenthal OCT. 19, 2017
When most Americans think of domestic terrorism, they probably think about the Oklahoma City bomber, white supremacists who wallow in Nazi nostalgia, racists who spray gunfire in black churches and lone-wolf psychopaths like the one who murdered at least 59 people in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.
In other words, White Men.
Uh, a lot of us also think of domestic-born Muslim terrorists like in Orlando and San Bernardino, but not Mr. Rosenthal.
Not the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It’s thinking outside that narrow box.
In a report that was never supposed to be made public, but was on Oct. 6 by foreignpolicy.org, the F.B.I.’s Counterterrorism Division has concluded that there is a real threat from the “black identity extremist” movement.
It said “Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans” has been responsible for “an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence” in the future.
Wait, what exactly is black identity extremism? The answer is: nothing.
Nothing, you hear me, nothing. Under the rules of Sapir-Whorf Act, you evil white people are not allowed to have a term for this spectacular phenomenon that helped get Trump elected.
The FBI report cites six examples in which there is verbal evidence of , including:
- Dallas, BLM rally, July 7, 2016, black man shoots 11 cops, killing 5, shortly after President Obama denounced a couple of police killings (including Philando Castile being shot by Great White Defendant Jeronimo Yanez).
- Baton Rouge, July 17, 2016
I can think of other well-known cases, such as the murder on December 20, 2014 of two NYPD officers in retribution over the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York.
But noticing patterns show you are evil:
It’s a fiction, as others have powerfully argued, including Andrew Cohen, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.
But that doesn’t make the report any less sinister. As Cohen pointed out, the F.B.I. has a “history of surveillance and intimidation of black Americans that frequently goes beyond legitimate law enforcement into paranoia, racism, and political expediency.”
The F.B.I. document takes pains to say that the mere exercise of constitutional rights to protest and even the “rhetorical embrace” of violent tactics “may not” constitute extremism. But the danger — or even the aim — is that the entire racial justice movement gets painted with the brush of terrorism.
The next time there is an act of violence by an African-American against police officers, brace yourself for the right-wing media or the attorney general or the tweeter in chief to seize on the phrase “black identity extremists.”
We control what phrases are allowed to exist. You are not allowed to invent any that we don’t like.