Can you govern a people without actually talking to the people?
A reasonable person would say no, absolutely not. One cannot govern without understanding the needs and wants of their constituents, marginalized or otherwise, for even the marginalized are among those you represent. One must understand, or at least attempt to understand, the social and cultural nuances of economy, education, identity and language.
But then again, I’m not sure most people would ever use the term “reasonable” to describe the newly elected governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Yes, that Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
One of many of ex-President Donald Trump’s Press Secretaries. Daughter of Republican Presidential candidate and Baptist Minister Mike Huckabee, and professional bender-of-truth. She is also now the Governor of Arkansas, and on Jan. 11, NBC News reported that as her first order of business (literally her VERY FIRST), she signed an executive order banning the use of the word “Latinx”. Now you might chuckle at the silliness of such a thing – I did. Who actually bans a word? I didn’t even know you *could* legally ban a word!
I thought that was a thing only my mom did when I was in junior high. She banned the use of the word “like” in my vocabulary because I had many more words I could use to express myself. But a politician banning a word?? I’d never heard of such a thing, so I did some research.
According to The First Amendment Encyclopedia, produced and maintained by the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, not even profanity can be banned. It can be regulated and/or punished but banned, no.
“In Cohen v. California (1971), Justice John Marshall Harlan II reasoned that while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”
Harlan warned that “governments might soon seize upon the censorship of particular words as a convenient guise for banning the expression of unpopular views.” It’s that last sentence for me: “governments might soon seize upon the censorship of particular words as a convenient guise for banning the expression of unpopular views.”
And there it is, folks – the Supreme Court said you couldn’t ban profanity because it could lead to the slippery slope of banning any word that doesn’t fit your particular views. Yet here we are, praying that all the Latinx people of Arkansas have a life vest and an insurance policy because they are now on said slippery slope.
But it’s not just about Governor Huckabee-Sanders banning a word.
No, it’s actually much more insidious and, dare I say, nuanced…nay…coded than that. I suspect that at the root of her decision to ban the word Latinx is really a desire to strike the existence of an entire culture from the record of existence in Arkansas. She’s not only attempting to ban how people of Latin culture/heritage identify themselves, but she is covertly yet effectively removing the existence of Latinx LGBTQIA+ individuals from the Arkansas rolls.
The term “Latinx” has been adopted by many in the LGBTQIA+ community as a way to identify their gender identity within the context of their cultural identity. The Spanish language is historically (and still primarily) gendered, using -o or -a to differentiate between verbs and nouns being expressly female or male.
But now that we have language to identify folks who do not fit into either category exclusively (non-binary, transgender, two spirit), and many have adopted the use of the term Latinx or, more recently, Latine, as a way of being more inclusive as a culture, the powers that be have literally said it is illegal to identify yourself in a way that is simultaneously gender and culturally affirming.
When did inclusivity become a bad thing?
Well, it would seem that in Arkansas, inclusivity became a bad thing when it became perceived as a threat. But one must ask – a threat to whom? A threat to the majority, i.e. “white,” culture. There are centuries upon centuries of well-documented accounts of white Europeans coming into a land that is not their own, a culture that is not their own, and demanding that they now be the majority. They have done it on nearly every continent around the globe. They have done it through the use of violence, and they have done it through the use of language. If you can erase a person’s language, the way they identify themselves, and the world around them, you can effectively begin to erase an entire culture. They will become a shell of the person they once were, or worse, forget who they ever were at all.
Governor Huckabee-Sanders is taking a page right out of the “How To Colonize a Country” playbook.
Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, author of Decolonising The Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature lays out the rules of play perfectly.
“Language as communication as culture are then products of each other. Communication creates culture; culture is a means of communication. Language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive, and our place in the world. How people perceive themselves affects how they look at their culture, at their politics and at the social production of wealth…”
If she can erase the language by which Latin members of the LGBTQIA+ community identify themselves, it is only a matter of time before she enacts laws to erase the entire community and the rich culture that comes with it. As it stands, she’s advancing down the field.