Listening, Learning, and Language Modification.
It has been quite a while since I posted something on here. Outside factors continuously prevented me from staying committed to this new thing I am trying to do. (Blogging is hard because it is so time consuming to produce quality material regularly). However, I have not been slacking either.. instead of writing, I have been using my free time to listen and learn.
I have been reading about other forms of oppression that I do not have to face. My privileged status left me ignorant about various issues outside my own Salvadorian community. The effect of understanding the amount of ignorance I have on other issues has worked as a mitigating factor when it came to writing about those issues. I found myself wanting to share, but I also realized that I lacked the expertise needed to talk about these issues with any force or nuance. Sometimes it is better to just shut-up, listen and learn when you are part of the privileged group instead of voicing your opinion. All too often, the way privileged people voice opinions is to either act like authorities on issues in which they have no experience in, or to be mere mouthpieces of minorities they have been listening to. Desiring to be neither, I have opted simply to listen and learn. (Something many of us should try doing from time to time)
Now, as I did this, I was simultaneously educating myself about Human Psychology. In my profession, it helps tremendously to understand human behavior, because that knowledge helps to manage, deal with, and control a situation. Having “people skills” can help you get your message through with even the most resistant folks.
What I saw, was this underlying connection to the importance of Language Modification to get desired results. In every book I read, the main point and strategy in communication is acknowledging that your language matters. Language used, made all the difference to the impact your message had on the person you were trying to communicate with. In that, having good people skills/communication skills means knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. If you were unwilling to modify your own language, then it meant that you were going to have trouble communicating with resistant people – and in my profession there are many. In a profession where you have to put the needs of your client above your own, having the ability to monitor and change your own language, in order to comfort your clients (getting them to a place were you need them to be), is the difference between a successful career and unsuccessful one. Because my profession requires me to make such accommodations daily, this has resulted in me using these same accommodations in my personal life. The career skills I learned have benefited me in my personal and social affairs, and as such, I have no resistance towards modifying my own language when I think it is appropriate. (Hint: In my blog, I use that I want, if I want to say fck or sht, since this is my space, I am ganna do it. Do not attempt to argue with me about my language on my blog.)
So here is the thing that hit me, one that I felt was interesting enough to write on my blog…. each and every time I entered minority spaces on social justice issues, in which, as a person of color, I was not one of the oppressed but rather one of the privileged (LGBTQ issues, anti-black race issues, mental illness issues, physical issues, feminist issues, womanist issues)… what I found was that each of these minority groups actively monitor the use of Language by privileged people. They look for trigger words that indicate this or that privileged person either has a lot to learn, or if they are not ready to engage minorities directly because they still voice biases and bigoted thoughts about minorities. Minorities also develop they own words and labels in which they feel comfortable with. They point to words that more accurately describe their lived experiences – often times they promote the use of these words in order to encapsulate their struggles. Needless to say, I am all for this. However, what I found interesting is that each time they monitored a privileged person language or tried to improve their verbal repertoire (which in effect humanize their experience that are often dehumanized by the larger society)… they were met with resistance every time. Nothing but privileged whining and nonsense about how, oh now they are the “real oppressed“ because someone wants them to use better words.
What kind of fking sht is this?
I mean, it really started to piss me off. How resistant can people be to simply using better words because the language they are presently using actually hurt the minority groups they spoke of. WTF is the issue? Why is it that cis people are so resistant to using accommodations like cis-male or trans-male? Why is it so hard to, when asked to refer to a trans-woman as a “her”, to use the word “her”? The world is ending because Transgender activists are actively trying to inform the public that they prefer you acknowledge the natural complexities of gender we have? Puhlease… This active resistance becomes really grotesque when privileged groups accuse minorities, who attempting to make space for themselves by adding humanizing language to their experiences, of being abusive or totalitarian. How fcking foolish do you have to be to not understand that words are important? How ignorant do you have to be to not understand that being adviced to use better words is not actually a form of oppression?
How can someone not understand that the words you use have an impact on what you are trying to say? I would think such an understanding is so trivial that even grade schoolers understand the logic of such a view. Their resistance is… not just frustrating but also a form of aggression. This resistance, is actually a symptom of their privilege and is, in many cases, quite literally, active oppression. Oppression comes in many forms and in difference intensities, and in this case, peoples inability to and or refusal to simply modify one or two words when actively talking to minority groups (where words can be triggers), after being told, repeatedly, what word to use, is in fact dehumanized and oppressive.
When someone asks you to not use this word because it dehumanizes them, and tells you to use other words because it makes their experiences real (when often society likes to ignore their experiences)…. to not engage in such an activity, and to continue to use the word in question in their presence…. is plainly a move of oppression. It is telling someone “fck off, I can say whatever I want, and I am ganna say this to fck with you because you don’t mean sht to me. You are garbage, watch me make you powerless” Make no mistake, that is the massage that is sent.
When this is done by someone who is in the privileged position in society – someone that has enough social, political, economical power to shrug off the struggles of the other peoples – it is a step in active dehumanization. They use their status to say that this or that group is not worthy of such a trivial (on our part, not theirs )consideration. This rejection of language modification (which is easy to do) does in effect, undermine their human dignity. You see, if you can not even be bothered to use different fcking words, what does this say when the stakes are higher? When we are not just talking about the impact of words and asking you to use better ones, but instead talking about violence or built in societal inequalities? If you can’t even do that… do you think you are even going to engage in the other harder issues around that minority community?
The truth is that if privileged peoples don’t give a fck there… they ain’t ganna give a fck over there either. Instead their active and often aggressive resistance to using different words does a tremendous amount of emotional damage to the minorities in question. You see, it makes it that much harder to mobilize on other issues because they are being hurt, and burnt out on language issues. So yeah, if you refuse to take part in humanizing minority experiences by simply using better words – can’t stress that enough – then you are actively being an oppressor.