Can we please do better than “Y’all Qaeda”?


About a day ago, a bunch of white people took over a federal government building in Oregon. Some are pretty heavily armed. They claim that they are protesting the seizure of land by the federal government.

The story has attracted the interest of many people not because of what the group is demanding (although that too has been criticized) but rather the seemingly strange way authorities and the media have dealt with the situation. Wajahat Ali wrote in the Guardian:

If one black man holding a plastic toy gun even walked in the direction of a federal building, let alone with 150 other black men all holding loaded rifles, he’d be shot dead by law enforcement, no questions asked. If 15 Muslims occupied a 7-Eleven with BB guns and masala Slurpees, federal law enforcement would probably roll up with six MRAPs and immediately take everyone out Waco-style

The group occupying the wildlife refuge seem to be receiving a substantially kinder treatment by authorities than others receive.

This has led lots of people to try to re-frame their action in ways that mirror how violence and protests are dealt with when people of color are involved. Hence “Y’all Qaeda” and a whole bunch of other memes, many of which draw on representations of Southern language (for example, “no gub’mint”).

I’m all for pointing out racial double standards, and this particular one is life-threatening for many people. However, I think we can do better than “y’all qaeda”, clever as it may be.

The occupied building is in Oregon, and the men and women doing the occupying are not likely to be Southern English speakers. Take the apparent leader of the group, Ammon Bundy, who is speaking about the purpose of the protest in the video below. He’s clearly not a Southern English speaker.

Thus, “y’all qaeda” does not refer to any recognizable aspect of the men and women directly involved in this protest. Rather, “y’all” here is meant merely to stigmatize Bundy and his group by associating them with an oft-maligned language variety, Southern English.

Despite people’s visceral attitudes toward Southern English, there’s nothing actually wrong with “y’all”. In fact, it’s rather useful, providing a second person plural pronoun to Southern English (and other varieties that use it too), allowing speakers to avoid the clumsy (sometimes vaguely sexist) alternatives that other English speakers are forced to use for the same purpose, like “you guys”. However, in the “Y’all Qaeda” formulation, “y’all” is simply being used to subtly imply that the protesters are ignorant, uneducated, and lower class, all things we associate unfairly with the South and its language variety, Southern English.

There’s no reason to shame Southern English speakers, especially when we have perfectly good targets to aim our disgust at. Another suggestion, “Vanilla ISIS”, seems like a great compromise, although it might be giving too much credit to a bunch of people that can’t even remember to bring snacks to their armed take-over of public property.

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Posted in Language and social class
6 comments on “Can we please do better than “Y’all Qaeda”?
  1. Giovanna says:

    Can we please dispense with the designation “ISIS” altogether for that terrorist group? “Isis” was a Hellenized form of the Egyptian “Aset” (and later, a Hellenistic and syncretic Mother Goddess inspired by the same Egyptian Goddess Aset). Both Aset and Isis have worshipers in the present, and those worshipers (whatever religious biases anyone may have toward their beliefs and practices) do not deserve to be stigmatized by being associated with a fanatical terrorist group. Alternatives are “ISIL,” and (arguably preferable since they apparently dislike it) “Daesh.”

  2. I made exactly this comment to Ed yesterday, just less eloquently. “That’s cute… but they’re in Oregon, not the South.”

    Yokel Haram, anyone? Anyone? No one? Oh.

  3. Jason Black says:

    I’ve seen “Cowliphate” as well, which I quite like.

  4. Mike Koplow says:

    Nic, you’re absolutely right. Another problem is that playing the al-Qaeda or ISIS card is kind of like playing the Hitler card. These militia guys are provocative, misguided, and lots of other bad things, but as far as I know they haven’t committed any mass murders and probably don’t intend to.

  5. Lately, the Flu Flux Klan seems more appropriate.
    Trailerban has also been used.

  6. Nicholas says:

    NB wasn’t Oregon illegally occupies and ripped from Canada in much the same way as Texas and New Mexico were wrested from mexico.

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