Monday, May 8, 2017

On Language

A few years ago, my family had a falling out with what we thought were good, solid family friends. Family conversation often turns to subjects of social justice in our home, and most guests are not only used to it but appreciate the ad hoc safe space we host. But these friends were sulking at every visit. Turns out, they hated us because we reminded them that oppression still existed, were propagating issues by addressing them, or some such bullshit and grew more resentful and angry at every visit. 

I wrote a lot during it and about it, and a lot of the discussion about language is extremely applicable here. The names, etc, have been obscured to protect those that have yet to actually develop the personal evolution they think they have achieved. Editing for clarity of thought has also been attempted, Dear Reader.
See below for description and request.

Description: this is a pink US flag design saying the following: In Our America all people are equal, black lives matter, immigrants and refugees are welcome, disabilities are respected, women are in charge of their own bodies, people and planet are valued over profit. Diversity is celebrated.

"Of Dogs and Lizards" was frequently cited during the original conversation, I want to credit it here. If you know the credit for the graphic above, I would be thankful for letting me know so I can give due credit.

It took a while to put together what happened, in a bigger picture sort of way. The story: I posted a link that stated using the word "lame" was not only inconsiderate or mean, but discriminatory and prejudiced. For having the audacity to reinforce the idea that people with handicaps are indeed humans worthy of decent treatment, I was isolated and shamed. I was the card while others scored about seven Bingos (disability and some sexist and racist bingo, too).

What this lead to, the point I am getting to is incredibly hard to think, let alone put to words on a screen or say out loud: I was discriminated against. I was treated with prejudice... by people I love. These people had standing invitations to our home. They supped with us. They were around our children. NOTE: Dear Reader, this list could be much longer but then starts to get both tedious and very specific, which is not intended. The intent is to share the thoughts I generated during this mess.

This was a little thing. Such a little thing generated such intense shame and anger and embarrassment and humiliation from me, such rage, hate, and discontent at me. I am not looking away. I will not forget. I will not withdraw. I will use this experience to kick myself back to the things I want to do - to actively fight exactly this sort of thing. I will be more empathic when someone else talks about facing bigotry. I will insist to myself and others that I am not less human than they.

There is a simple reason to talk about "politically correct" language. Every time there is a language & hate issue in US culture, we talk about it for maybe a few days and think we are done, that we did our collective penance. USians are usually free to say what we like. Other people are also free to think what they like and say what they like about what we say. Advising someone not to use offensive language serves a purpose: to separate the assholes from the ignorant or unwitting. Flailing about your right to express yourself while trying to take that right away from someone else is Palin-esque at best.

If you know that the use of some language hurts someone else and you still use it - you are an asshole. You are, of course, free to be an asshole. But if you actually care about how other people think and feel, you will stop. This lets the rest of us know whether you were simply uninformed, or a jerk-ass.

When told that you are using language considered racist, sexist, cis-ist, heteronormative or homophobic, able-ist, class-ist, or otherwise offensive to someone, please take a moment to think. If you are not sexist, racist, or otherwise deliberately offending, then just stop it. Sit down so we can see who the real assholes are, please. Or keep standing, if appropriate, it is appreciated. The same benefit is not denied to you, but rather explicitly given.

I simply do not see trying to be human to my fellow humans as the burden that some do. Yes, it is hard to keep track of all the things that folks say to one another to hurt, demean, humiliate, taunt, disgrace... So when you do hurt someone by accident or ignorance, apologize with some grace, make a note of it and move the fuck on without complaint. If you want to be seen as that sort of person instead.

I do not suggest that I or anyone else tell anyone what to think or say, so I do not know where the jack-booted Thought Police accusation originates although it comes up time and time again by those wishing to do and say what they wish without allowing others to do the same. Why is one cherished freedom and the other so damn oppressive?!? They are the same right, just in different hands.

"All language is oppressive to someone" is both a fallacy and a cop out. As long as one subscribes to that, then one never has to care or try. I am better than that. Dear Reader, I am already sure you are better than that. But if the idea that one may say "that thing you said or did hurt me in real ways" drives you to monk-ish silence or a career as a mime, you do you!

An "ally" that constantly steps on your foot and blames you for hurting, or for having the audacity to say "OUCH!" is no ally. They just want the warm fuzzy of thinking they are an ally with none of the effort.
No one blames anyone for having privilege. None of us get to choose the circumstances of our birth, our families, or pick the culture we were born into. Sometimes it really is just that simple. Political correctness holds us responsible for what we say and do, and is avoided by those that cannot stomach being responsible in that way.

No one is immune from accountability. There is nothing about talking and learning and advocating for racial justice that makes us exempt from saying something racially hurtful. Hell, there is nothing about my currently disabled status that means I am exempt from saying some shit that someone with another disability may find offensive. (It happens.) That was part of the point - we are all going to occasionally fuck up. We all have some privilege, and we are all personally responsible for doing our best not to oppress our fellow human beings. There is nothing about being a woman that makes me immune to internalizing hateful messages and using them to hurt someone. There is nothing, but my knowledge that we are all in the same soup and need to stay vigilant about the ideas we allow to roost in the rafters of our world view.

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