While taking a class last semester, I learned that the average person reads at around a sixth grade reading level. Think about that for a moment, a sixth grade reading level, which means if I am writing to the average person even about complex and multifaceted issues, I must retain the ability to condense and bring the language to a point to where it is accessible for the everyday person to read, understand and apply it. It doesn’t matter if the topic is White Supremacy or the current logjam of a presidential race, if they cannot understand and grasp the concepts of which I write, then my words are no longer a public benefit, but my words have now become intellectual oppression.
If my language stays elevated, then I function as a tool of a paradigm that is commonly called “The Master’s House” which is a metaphor for the structural racism and biases that function within the system of White Supremacy. Inside of this “Master’s House” are tools, most commonly referred to when one wants to pursue advanced degrees. These tools may include training, connections and access to people who outside of the academic domain would be inaccessible. A noteworthy goal to be sure, but those who enter into “The Master’s House” must be sure not to become comfortable with its trappings and become normalized to its benefits, then forgetting about those who do not have suitable access to “The Master’s Tools” and any of their benefits. Within academia, there seems to be a kind of trend, specifically within Black Academia and that is the trend of proving yourself to be the most intellectually superior. This can take place in many many forms, one of which is usually the pissing in the wind competition, or writing hitpieces and thinkpieces on other influential Black intellectuals (See Michael Eric Dyson v. Cornel West) using as much intellectual jargon as you can fit into ten thousand words of petty arguments and statements that show a different light of said target of your writings.
Another form of intellectual competition is issuing paternalistic or demeaning statements from men which are sometimes hidden in a larger critique (See Cornel West’s critique of Coates’ Between Me and The World) In this critique, Dr. West criticizes Coates for not being focused enough on an all too American agenda of inflicting pain and suffering on Black and Brown bodies throughout the world while simultaneously chiding Toni Morrison for giving her own opinion likening Coates to James Baldwin. West of course uses elevated language and some academic jargon which would indicate on some level that this critique of Morrison’s opinion was not intended to be understood or utilized by those outside of academia. This is an illustration of a broader issue within the body of the politics of Black Academia.
While using your intellect to compartmentalize and analyze complex situations, many of those whom we would call public intellectuals fall victim to the idea that they have to always be the smartest person in the room by using as much intellectual jargon as possible. This is not intellectualism however, this is only putting on airs to be percieved by others (usually White Media) as the go to Black voice for cultural and political analysis. However, a truer measure of one’s academic credentials is not the ability to hide substance in excrement, but the ability to make the confusingly complicated plain and simple for the audience in attendance and or worldwide. I would caution anyone who fancies him or herself a thinker to be very careful when crafting arguments and statements that will have to be recieved by a wider audience than their academic peers to be understanding of the level to which most people read and comprehend.
This is not to say you dumb it down, but in the paraphrased words of Albert Einstein, if you cannot explain it simply, you must not understand it completely. All of this to say that in Academia, language use can become a barrier to understanding if the academic who is doing the speaking or the writing is not careful to include his or her audience in the crafting of an argument. If language is being used to conceal something of importance to the American public, then it is the duty of the public intellectual to bring down this elevated language and this jargon into specific terms which the average everyday American can understand and put into practical thought. What good then is a public intellectual who engages in the same sins which those who wish to conceal concepts do?
Language should not be a barrier to the complete or at least a basic understanding of a complex issue if there is an intellectual who can decode these statements and phrases into common everyday English. In fact, this is a reasonable service that the public intellectual can reasonably be expected to perform. What they should not do however, is to elevate their language to a state of uselessness in an attempt to demonstrate what they know to a public who does not care about what you know, but rather how does what you know affect the way that a complicated problem is handled on thier end. To deconstruct a vocabulary rooted in the oppression and political illiteracy of a certain class and or race of people is part of your job. It is not your job to further confuse and or dazzle with words while the people get nothing out of your pronouncements but Dr Such and Such is a brilliant man/woman. Academia and the intellectuals it is supposed to produce should not function in the interest of concealment but revelation.
Language should not be used to oppress and subjugate by anyone, much less those who are supposed to be fluent in the duality that is used to construct some arguments by those in the public eye. A true intellectual is able to dismantle the language of oppression, not enable it with useless and unintelligible jargon. This is your job, intellectuals.
I would hope you don’t use “The Master’s Tools” to rebuild oppression under a different standard. I would hope you don’t use your training to further the ends of those who would gain from the further subjugation of a certain class of people. I would hope that your words are grasped by the majority when a minority wants to use ignorance to continue this country on a path towards self destruction. I would hope that you would create arguments which do not faciliate oppressive language but liberates people from the yoke of misunderstanding. I would hope you stand for the freedom of the masses and not the rule of the few, even if those few cash your checks. Do not abandon your post as the vanguard between political posturing and intellectual accountability. That is where we need you. Your language should never function as oppression.