We’ve demonstrated quite a few times here at DDP that we’re particularly adamant in the belief that words matter. Language can shape how we feel about ourselves, how others perceive us, and even the tone and course of societal ideas. Language can be used to uplift individuals and communities, organize and inspire entire social movements, devastate our emotions, and yes, even as a tool for dehumanization.
Language is particularly important to social justice movements because it’s often used as one of the most insidious forms of oppression. Hurtful and oppressive language has been and is used by explicit racists, misogynists, and LGBTQIA-antagonists to assert superiority and to actively erode the will, mental health, and perceived humanity of the groups they antagonize. Thankfully the number of those people is shrinking (though can still absolutely be found, and are still a danger in our society), as is our general tolerance of the hate that they profess.
But oppressive and offensive language is commonly used by implicit oppressors as well, meaning people that say “lighten up” or “that’s just the way it is”. People who cling to biological determinism or who “don’t see race”. Everyday sexism, benevolent sexism, and microaggressions of all kinds can fall under this category. Implicit oppressors usually “don’t mean to offend or oppress” but that plausible deniability is what makes it so insidious. By not challenging the norms of an unequal society AND using language that apes or reinforces explicit oppressors we are only allowing that oppressive society to persist.
I’d like to talk now about one particular linguistic tweak that we can all make that will help us on the path to not being implicit oppressors, and that’s “people-first language”. Now, if you’re already familiar with this concept and are about to close this browser tab please stick around because I hope to also provide some nuance and complexity to the subject that you’ll appreciate! Continue reading