With summer fast approaching, it is time once more to give thanks for the neighborhood pool, refresher of the sweating lawn mower and useful metaphor for the political journalist. The pool is a delight, of course, yet like any communal space it can’t help but draw in the riffraff. Families move away but hang on to their gate keys. Children invade with their scores of friends. Strangers staring plaintively through the metal bars are inevitably buzzed in. Eventually, the homeowners’ association has no choice but to tighten the rules and change the locks.
And as with pool access, so with language.
Like all groups that cohere on the basis of affinity rather than kinship, progressives require a method by which they can advertise their place within the herd. A set of exquisitely honed political opinions (Bernie is right but too white; Trump should be impeached and damn the torpedoes) is helpful but can take too much time to suss out. Confessing one’s privilege used to be just the ticket, but lately more and more conservatives have begun to do it. Given the fact that the average leftist has trained himself to distinguish friend from foe after two seconds of conversation, the only surefire way to prove that one belongs is the correct utilization of buzzwords. Just as the precision of one’s grammar can signal one’s rank among the educated classes, so a willingness to learn and employ au courant political terminology can mark one as a progressive in good standing.
Alas, some keys work poorly and no longer open any doors at all. “Woke,” at one time a black colloquialism co-opted by the stylish Left, has been largely transformed into a conservative gag word, scare-quoted to within an inch of its life and no longer fit for un-ironic usage. “Handi-capable,” a cloying refurbishment of “handicapped,” had its moment earlier this decade but seems unlikely, thank God, to endure. “Person of color,” an achingly elegant term of art against which “African-American” and “Hispanic” stood no chance, is now so widely known that one hears it on the lips of septuagenarian NPR callers. The only solution to the problem is the creation of something new.
And that something new may very well be the word “minoritized.”
For readers who have yet to encounter the term, I can only advise patience and a precautionary dose of antacids. A three-decade-old child of academic journals, “minoritized” was weened in the Left’s digital click-bait factories and is coming of age in dorm-room manifestos and on the nation’s quads. Unsurprisingly, the word is frequently deployed alongside jargon, the better to disguise its essential stupidity. Resources for Feminist Research, for example, asked readers in 1995 to ponder not only “the processes by which literary production gets codified and minoritized” but also “how normative and non-normative identities are administered, established, and contested.” Studies in the Novel, in an issue released a year later, considered the sorry lot of groups that are “minoritized and majoritized at once,” as well as — prepare to be perplexed — “the double fascination of a homosexualized heterosexuality.”
In Slate, the most recent use of the term occurred last August when staff writer Lili Loofbourow heaped praise on Kenyon writer Keguro Macharia’s “remarkable analysis of how even queer theorists of minoritized subcultures appear to have favored status networks over their own declared priorities.” And in Jezebel in 2017, Aditi Natasha Kini noted, in a discussion of the movies The Big Sick and Master of None, that “both handle minoritized narratives and non-romantic relationships with a lighter, more sensitive touch than romantic relationships.” Nonetheless, she added, “they’re both masturbatory fantasies that give brown men the vantage point of a white male cinephile.”
To the Left’s credit, not every occurrence of “minoritized” in print feels as if it were written by a doctoral candidate in Mumia Abu Jamal Studies. Perhaps the clearest use of the word in recent days occurred in the Williams Record, the student newspaper of prestigious Williams College in Massachusetts. Calling upon the institution’s trustees to implement neo-segregationist housing policies, termed “affinity housing” by its advocates (Dion J. Pierre has covered the story for NRO), the newspaper’s undergraduate editors bemoaned not only the plight of “minoritized students” but the presence on campus of “minoritized identities” and “the most minoritized voices” (emphasis mine) — victimhood being, as always, a winnable competition.
Yet it is in these comparatively readable phrases that the sinister nature of the term becomes fully evident. To say that a person belongs to a minority group is to assert a plain fact with little in the way of moral resonance. To call him “minoritized,” however, is to declare that something has been done to him. The accusation is in the suffix, with “ized” indicating a state or condition that someone else has caused or inflicted. Who minoritized those unfortunate Williams students? White people, of course, with their selfish insistence on bearing yet more white children and sending them to Williamstown at the appalling rate of $56,970 per year, room and board not included. Herein lies the brilliance of “minoritized” as a piece of political rhetoric. It is able, at a single go, to convey both identity status and the presence of enemies. For the contentious age in which we live, it may very well be the perfect word.
Will “minoritized” take its place in the popular lexicon? An enterprising Democratic presidential candidate could certainly give it a nudge. (Beto, it isn’t too late to save yourself.) And would the term’s wider adoption have any effect at all beyond allowing progressives to recognize one another more easily on Twitter? Could it improve, for example, the state of race relations in this country? That such an idea is laughable is the joke that gives away the game. As Nancy Mairs wrote in her seminal essay “On Being a Cripple,” the linguistic evolution “that transformed countries from ‘undeveloped’ to ‘underdeveloped,’ then to ‘less developed,’ and finally to ‘developing’” achieved absolutely nothing. “People have continued to starve in those countries during the shift.”
So, inevitably, will it be for “minoritized.” It may do harm; certainly it will do no good. But doing good isn’t really the point, is it?