Flat White

What’s woke this week (or racist)?

7 August 2020

2:55 PM

7 August 2020

2:55 PM

In racism news, the woke word police have been all atwitter this week, bless them, fluttering about racist bird names; woke mathematicians have come out from behind their computers with equations blazing in an earnest attempt to prove that 2 + 2 = 5 because 2 + 2 = 4 is so obviously racist, and the Norwegian flag is a symbol of racism.  

Ruffled feathers

Ornithologists and bird watchers have been shaking their tail feathers with gusto this week. It seems that Bachman’s Sparrow, Audubon’s Oriole and many other birds are under threat, and not from the usual culprits of climate change and environmental degradation. No, it’s racism in the form of the dreaded eponym that’s casting a pall over our feathered friends. 

The Washington Post published an enlightening op ed this week titled The stench of colonialism mars these bird names. They must be changed. In it writers Jordan Rutter and Gabriel Foley offer up some birdie baguettes like: 

A bird’s beauty should not be marred by the baggage of an eponym. We could decide right now that the words we use matter, and that birds should carry their own history, not ours.


Honorific names cast long, dark shadows over birds and represent racism and inequality. It is long overdue that we acknowledge the problem of such names, and it is long overdue that we should change them. 

Rutter and Foley are the founders of Bird Names for Birds, an organisation whose mission is to replace the more than 150 eponymous bird names in use in North America: 

By continuing to use eponymous common bird names, we continue to reference and honor our distressful colonial heritage and the racism that was a direct consequence of this malicious exploitation. This is unacceptable, and we must do better.  

Such is the depth of feeling on this matter in the North American birding community that 182 people recently signed a petition to the American Ornothological Society. Talk about a groundswell of support. 

It’s not quite clear how bird names for birds will work, though. Having people provide alternative names could be a touch problematic, since that would still seem to impose a system of human oppression on the rights of birds to self-determination and self-expression.  How do you spell faaaaarrk? 

Maths mentals 

In an argument scarily reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s famous 7 x 13 = 28 skit mathematicians with a social justice bent and a band of useful idiots have been waging a twitter war against James Lindsay who recently published a meme in his series of Woke Minis: 2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values.  

Unremarkable and amusing? I think not. 

You might remember Lindsay (who incidentally has a PhD in mathematics) as one of the three architects of the grievance studies affair, along with Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian. The three submitted and published a range of bogus academic papers to demonstrate the lack of academic rigour in peer review in the social sciences.   

In the best tradition of ‘you can’t make this stuff up, some of the responses to Lindsay’s meme have been classic, including: 

There are two factories. Each factory has two fully operational machines, as well as half the parts to build another one. If the two factories were joined into one and the two halves of parts were built together there would be five total machines. A case where 2 + 2 =5.

You mean 2 ½ + 2 ½ = 5? 

Or how about the following where the intersection of racism and transphobia raises its ugly head (and where ‘amount’ can be used instead of ‘number’ in a discussion about Maths, apparently without any irony): 

The amount [sic] of people losing their shit over a mathematician saying ‘there are instances where 2 + 2 = 5’ is why you’ll never be able to convince transphobes to stop oppressing transpeople.

Aw, but it isn’t just racist and transphobic, it’s sexist, too: 

I need people to consider how they can support colleagues and reframe the nastiness taking place through 2 + 2 =4. It’s no coincidence that women (of color) are being targeted!

Even for someone mathematically-challenged, like me, it’s been fascinating and hilarious stuff. You can read Lindsay’s take on the whole affair, 2 + 2 Never Equals Five, on the New Discourses website here. 

The final word on this inevitably belongs to George Orwell: 

In the end the party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they would make that claim sooner or later; the logic of their position demanded it. Note merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.

Ignorance is an abyss

The ‘mint capital of the world’, St John’s Michigan has been at the centre of a racism storm recently. No, you’ll be pleased to learn that mint farming hasn’t yet been identified as a racist undertaking. Instead, wokesters have misidentified the Norwegian flag as a racist symbol.  Hva i? 

According to the Post Millennial: 

A Michigan bed and breakfast has removed their Norwegian flag after several complaints from guests and city residents revealed that they mistook it for the Confederate flag.

The Nordic Pineapple in St. Johns received “at least a dozen hateful emails,” said Greg and Kjersten Offenecker, who said they’ve removed both the Norwegian flag and the American flag outside their Civil War-era home.

Well, of course, this is a mistake that any virtue-signalling social justice warrior could make. There’s just that slight difference in the angle of the white cross. Oh, and those pesky triangular blocks of red rather than rectangular ones, and then just that small matter of thirteen white stars on the blue cross. Hey, it could happen to anyone.   

Over to you, Martin Luther King Jr: 

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Illustration: @conceptualjames/Twitter.

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