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.