Texas cities are in an abusive relationship with the English language.
As city officials draft their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, you might think these public-facing documents are being filled with data points and explanations. But increasingly, they’re being filled with something else: woke-speak, the dialect of the progressive intelligentsia.
Without fail, these municipal budgets and reports find new ways to torture their readers; to be sure, this phenomenon is far from new. After all, in 1906, Winston Churchill first lambasted “terminological inexactitude” in the House of Commons. And who can forget George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” which broke down the “various mental vices” of political speech. Yet even Orwell and Churchill would pause at the magnitude in these city documents.
Now, here at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, we’ve watched this trend carefully. Anything worth talking about can be graphed. Taking one word “equity” and tracking it over time demonstrates just how much woke-speak has seeped into our language. And its liberal use in city budgets is matched only by growing city spending.
Over the course of a decade, Texas city budgets’ use of the word “equity” has grown faster than the S&P 500 and Amazon stocks. In Dallas, officials used the word just 4 times in 2013—by 2023, that had risen to 454.
In San Antonio, use of the word jumped by more than 1,000% from 2012 to 2022.
The numbers are revealing, but quantitative measures can only tell us so much. It also matters how they’re being used. To better illustrate that point, let’s look at three typical examples of recent usage, fairly standard in modern city budgets.
Example 1: Dallas Racial Equity Plan
“City of Dallas’ Office of Equity and Inclusion acknowledges the traditional territory of north Texas occupied by multiple American Indian groups along the Trinity River which provided seasonal homes and trading exchanges. Most notably, it was inhabited by the Caddo, Wichita, and nomadic tribes such as the Comanche, Kiowa, and ancestral tribes. We recognize the American Indian peoples as original stewards of this land and all the relatives within it.”
Translation: We stole your land and feel bad about it.
Example 2: San Antonio 2022-23 Budget
“The Alliance provides a multi-layered approach for maximum impact by supporting a cohort of jurisdictions that are at the forefront of work to achieve racial equity, developing a ‘pathway for entry’ into racial equity work, and supporting building local and regional collaborations. These efforts are broadly inclusive and focused on achieving racial equity.”
Translation: How to say nothing in 53 words.
Example 3: Austin 2022-23 Budget
“To advance equitable outcomes, the City of Austin is leading with a lens of racial equity and healing. Race is the primary predictor of outcomes and it is time to recognize, understand, and address racism at its various levels: personal, institutional, structural, and systemic.”
Translation: Trust us, we’re the good guys.
Of course, it’s not just Texas’ governments engaged in this sort of woke wordsmithing. There seems to be a national movement afoot. In the high and lofty circles of what economist Thomas Sowell calls the “Literati,” woke words are defined with more woke words. “Health equity means social justice” says one researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
All of which raises the question: Why?
The answer: Probably to justify more government spending.
Since this Cambrian explosion of progressive language in municipal budgets, cities have found more ways to spend your money: environmental justice, offices of equity and inclusion, racial equity focus groups, etc. These perceived problems and programs provide progressives with the necessary rationale to tax and spend ever more, which is partly cataloged in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s local government spending series.
While it may be tempting to look at something seemingly inane, like the left’s manipulation of language in the budgetary context, Texans should be aware that there are some very real consequences that emerge out of it as well.
Cities need a divorce from woke-speak.