Continuing on yesterdays theme regarding allies, I thought that today would be an appropriate time to discuss language. Many people profess to be anti racist, pro gay rights, or against sexism but routinely use language that is necessarily oppressive. To espouse a particular point of view one needs to be cognizant of language, and its ability to discursively construct someone as ‘other’. In the English language alone, there are many colloquial sayings that are oppressive that have been deemed acceptable as a form of communication. How many times have you heard someone say, that’s just retarded, or that’s so gay as a negative descriptor, and then turn around and say that they possess no biases? One of my personal favorites is “the best chefs are men”. This of course ignores the fact that cooking is only valuable when done in the public sphere to attain a profit. When women cook at home to feed their families, and friends it has no value.
When we make blanket statements involving a group of people it creates them as ‘other’. A space is unsafe when an individual feels unfairly targeted. Being conscious of language is something that I am dedicated to. Have I perfected the art of speaking without minimizing people at all times? No of course not, I am a product of society just as anyone else is. Here is the part where the ally thing comes into play. If you say something offensive the key is to acknowledge it. Don’t get defensive because that does nothing to further the conversation. Admit your error and recommit yourself to change. Unless you are living in the stigmatized body you cannot possibly know all of the nuances involved, so expect to make mistakes.
Many are afraid to speak out because of fear of alienating people. They question themselves needlessly. If you are even thinking about the intersections of race, class, and gender, you are more advanced than many in our society. Most importantly if you don’t take the risk and put yourself out there, you will never grow as a person. It may be safer to sit on the sidelines silently cheering, but you will have contributed nothing to struggle, and gained no significant knowledge.
There will always be those that will not accept that your intent was good simply because they are so wrapped up in their issues, that they are blind to an ally when they see one. Some will throw accusatory words at you, perhaps even accuse you of not “owning your privilege” (note feminist war words). Others will toss such vicious vitriol in your direction that you pray to morph into a turtle. Hold your head high if you know that your intentions were good. There will be someone who will acknowledge your intent. Feminist spheres are not always a friendly place to inhabit, but there is usually at least one individual who will say, I know what you meant to say.
Finally when we come together to share ideas, we should actually listen to what someone is saying, and not just pick apart an argument because we can. Anyone reading this blog, knows that I am a smart ass, and probably has guessed that I can pick apart just about any argument. Does it mean that I constantly engage in this activity because I can…No. Do I hold others up to ridicule when it is clear that they were trying to speak in solidarity…no. I recognize that nothing can be gained from that, other than to encourage the speaker to never again attempt to articulate a point of view that was meant to uplift me as a WOC. Will I gently point out a few things that were omitted…yes, however I will not do so in a way that vilifies the speaker because I realize that intent is worth something. If you really want to encourage people to “own their privileges”, the way to go about it is not by shooting them in the foot, the minute they step into the arena.