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The Power of Language
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The power of Language

Using Language to Fight Against Separatism including racism and sexism.

In the book, Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, the author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, offers this suggestion for raising a daughter: "Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions."

I would apply that thought to raising children in general, whether boys or girls. I belive that language is the primary hiding place for the beginnings of Separatism - whether talking about sexism, racism ageism, or other forms of dividing lables.

There is something we can all do to fight against separatism—like racism and sexism. We can consider the power of language and try to eliminate "exclusive" language and, instead, use "inclusive" language.

Inclusive language is language that does not discriminate. It is language that allows anyone to recognise themselves in a particular situation. It results in empathy and compassion. An example might be: (Conversation) "You know, it seems like just about anyone can be caught at sometime making a mistake." This acknowledges the Universiality of human experience. It allows ANYONE to listen and understand. It does not seek to introduce sexist or racist attitudes and language. It doesn't cut anyone out.

Exclusive language is made of words that exclude groups of people based on artifical and uneccesary stereotyping. An example would be this use of exclusive language: (Headline) "Black Man shot during robbery attempt" This is a particularly poignant example on several levels: (1) The use of "black" is irrelevant and racist; (2) the use of "man" is pointless and sexist; (3) the use of both "black" and "man" is also divisive and inflamatory. It serves no other purpose in a headline. But what it DOES is create a stereotype - "black men" are robbers (criminals). A better headline - one that is not based on discrimnation - might be: "Bank Robber Shot" allowing the reader, if they actually care about bank robberies, to read on without emotional baggage and stereotypes racing through their heads. If being "black" is somehow an important aspect of the story, it can be included in the body of the story. If it is based on verified factual information, it should be presented as such. Frankly, I can't see how it would ever be relevant, but I'll admit that anything is possible. Maybe the robbery took place on a planet where there are only green people...I guess that would make it surprisingly relevant!

Of course, I cannot hope to influence people who are determined to perpetuate race and gender stereotypes. It is sometimes difficult to even introduce the concept of "inclusive language" to people who are utterly convinced that, for example "a white female could never understand" or "Arabs are all like that." How sad. But convenient to put a whole race or gender into a little box and eliminate them as possible competition (for money, jobs, mates, etc). We have been so inundated with what I call "institutionalised separatism" that even imagining the concept of a "universal human experience" is difficult for some. People are quick to point out that THEY are unique and their experience is unique to them - but they fail to see the obvious: they ARE unique, just like EVERYONE else. And because they are unique, it does not mean that everyone in their church, gender, or "race" has had the same experience. Some are going to be Tories and some are going to be Liberals. Assuming that everyone in a HUGE group is the same is called "separatism", "racism", sexism", well, you get the idea.

Next time: "Race" what a misleading, unlikely, and misused concept! If we are part of any "race, it is the Human Race.





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