The language we use, both casually and deliberately, has proven to have a deeper significance when it comes to the emotional health of ourselves and those around us.
Unless you are living with a disability that dictates otherwise, we – as the human race – choose our words. Sometimes we choose them too quickly, and we haven’t thought about the broader impact they may carry. Sometimes we choose words specifically as a tool to hit a direct emotional target. Regardless of the intention (or lack thereof), at the most microscopic level, our brains and hearts have decided to say the things we do.
Casual use of any discriminatory language, even if not directly being used to dominate or demean another person, can still suggest that the behaviour of using the language is permissible.
This week Jezebel released a fantastic article and video from Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston, responding to a viewer email which stated:
“It's unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn't improved for many years. Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Here is Ms. Livingston’s brilliant response:
In the video Ms. Livingston states:
“Now I am a grown woman, and luckily for me, I have a very thick skin — literally, as that email pointed out, and otherwise. That man's words mean nothing to me. But what really angers me about this is there are children who don't know better… The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground. And this behaviour is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email. If you are at home, and you are talking about the fat newslady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our kids how to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example.”
Children have to decipher what’s appropriate or not by navigating the influences of their parents/family, peers, educators, the media and society at large. That’s no easy task, for an extremely impressionable mind. Are you being mindful of the permissions you are subtly granting the children around you?
October marks National Bullying Prevention Month. There are a multitude of organizations, such as GLSEN, GLAAD, The Trevor Project, the Born This Way Foundation, who are spending millions of dollars to actively dismantle the bullying culture.
Bullies can be easily identified: they are those that choose language specifically to harm. However, what about those who casually use discriminatory language with no real hurtful intentions?
I was left a bit dismayed when reading a recent article released from GOOD magazine about the meaning and variety of uses for the word “gay”. When I first came across the article, my initial thought was that I was going to find a piece dedicated to derailing the casual use of the phrase “that’s so gay.”
To my unwanted surprise, the writer suggested the issues that arise from using the term “gay” in a negative connotation, would dissipate should we as a society accept the next shift in language when it comes to the definition of the word. That the casual use of the phrase “that’s so gay” is really just to point out that something is of off-kilter in a negative way, having nothing to do with sexual orientation. The writer cautions that perhaps, just perhaps, gay people are being a touch oversensitive.
It always amazes me when people question “political correctness”. What many deem as “political correctness”, I simply view as very basic respect.
I have a rather simple theory: if I know that there is someone who validly would rather I not use certain terminology as it depicts their demographic in an inferior light, regardless of my intention, I’m not going to use it. Not just “do my best” to remember; I’m going to actively remove the terminology from my lexicon.
De-contextualization is complicated. If this is your goal in using derogatory terminology than what else are you doing to promote your cause? Are you creating petitions? Are you starting a real social movement? Just tossing in the phrase “that’s so gay” in casual conversation is nothing short of lazy.
It’s your right to feel, think and speak any way you choose. But allowing yourself to be verbally harmful intentionally is criminal. Allowing yourself to be unintentionally harmful is truculent.
“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.“ – Ludwig Wittegenstein
FYI: NoHomophobes.com has launched a running ticker of twitter updates that use the following terms. Between July 5th, 2012 and October 2nd, 2012:
- The word “Faggot” had been tweeted 2,690,629 times.
- The phrase “So Gay” had been tweeted 960,073 times.
- The phrase “No homo” had been tweeted 902,891 times.
- The term “Dyke” had been tweeted 371,165.