Phrases such as “hold down the fort,” and beverage names such as “black and tan,” have racist connotations and should not be used, according to the State Department’s Chief Diversity Officer John Robinson warned in a column this month.
Robinson prefaced the argument of the latest “Diversity Notes” feature by warning that he was about to make historical claims that may not be accurate, “but this isn’t about their historical validity; instead, instead, it is an opportunity to remember that our choice of wording affects our professional environment,” Robinson wrote in State Magazine.
At that point, he warned that an apparently benign phrase such as “hold down the fort” could strike some people as “negative and racially offensive,” because the phrase originates from forts on the American frontier (Robsinson says, having conceded that his history may or may not be true) when soldiers fought Native Americans.
Or, as Robinson put it: “In the territories of the west, Army soldiers or settlers saw the ‘fort’ as their refuge from their perceived ‘enemy,’ the stereotypical ‘savage’ Native American tribes.”
So, strike that from your lexicon. Similarly, you should probably stop ordering “black and tans,” because “the original Black and Tans were an ad hoc military group that committed atrocities against Irish civilians.”
Robinson provides an etymological history that may or may not be true for several other phrases before exhorting State Department staff to “agree that language will continue to evolve with continually improving consciousness and respect for others.”