Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is celebrating Black History Month the best way she knows how: with empathy.

She understands inequality. Indeed, despite being a white woman who, before joining Congress, drew a six-figure salary from the multimillion-dollar construction business she co-owns with her husband, Greene knows discrimination. Because she is unvaccinated, Greene says, she and her radioactive compatriots are discriminated against just as Black Americans have been for centuries.

She’s not kidding.

“Thanks to the hard work of Rev MLK Jr. and others, growing up in Georgia, I’ve seen the beautiful fruit that blossomed from the Civil Rights Era, where segregation ended & equality began,” she wrote on Martin Luther King Day 2022 in a post on Gettr, a Twitter-like hyper-right-wing echo chamber so toxic it’s too much even for Joe Rogan. “Today, I believe we are seeing a new segregation and discrimination beginning, wrongfully forced upon unvaccinated Americans by the tyrants of the Democrat Party.”

You forgot to thank linguistic misappropriation.

Not that she’s being original. Across the country, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers like Greene have hijacked the language of the civil rights movement to portray themselves as victims. It works surprisingly well.

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“Medical Jim Crow has come to America,” Tucker Carlson crowed back in June. “Politicians can segregate potential COVID carriers from the rest of the American public.”

Or onetime SNL Goat Boy Jim Breuer, who canceled shows last fall “due to the segregation of [the theater] forcing people to show up with vaccinations,” presumably heartbreaking both of his fans.

The Federalist has dubbed vaccine passports “medical segregation.”

And this dangerous rhetoric has trickled down around the world, to small-town city council meetings, op-ed pages, school boards, and trucker caravans, where words like segregation, slaves, and discrimination are wielded as weapons.

Never mind the false equivalency of discrimination based on someone’s existence — their race or ethnicity — vs. distinction based on an individual’s choice: i.e., the conscious decision not to get vaccinated.

There are a lot of compelling reasons to self-identify as a victim.

First, it engenders sympathy, which increases power. When individuals see themselves as victims, they become no longer individuals but allies. The same faux outrage has manufactured controversies for centuries, from the so-called War on Christmas (a century-old innovation of rabid anti-Semite Henry Ford) to the so-called Big Lie. When these noxious ideas spread, their proponents gain currency through a shared victimhood.

But the power of these words is not limitless. The more they’re used — and abused — the more their impact diminishes. Not long ago, words like hell and damn would never appear in a family newspaper. But now they’re considered conversational and don’t carry the same shock. So too with words like discriminate: When they’re misused, legitimate discrimination becomes harder to identify, and actual historical discrimination becomes softened in a kind of linguistic revisionism.

Which, especially during Black History Month, seems precisely the wrong lesson to learn.

The Grammarian, otherwise known as Jeffrey Barg, looks at how language, grammar, and punctuation shape our world, and appears biweekly. Send comments, questions, and auxiliary alternation to jeff@theangrygrammarian.com.


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