SDS Womyn's Caucus Blog

Language Politics

Posted on: February 20, 2010

by Christa (Philly)


The words I choose became a much bigger deal when I went to college (moving from a conservative area to a liberal one) and especially once I became an organizer.  I had cut out retarded long ago…but I learned why words like bitch, gay, gypped and lame are problematic.  I’ve heard many reasons why offensive language is or isn’t important by radicals and non-radicals alike (as well as privileged and oppressed folks) but I’d still rather stick with better safe than sorry.  I don’t like when people say “fag” or “that’s so gay” so I’m going to do onto others how I want to be treated.

Recently on the facebook  info page for the group Against Equality (a queer anti-assimilation group) someone posted
“…I ask that (1) we remove the ableist terminology of “lame” (see paragraph 4) and to (2) remove the unnecessary and counterproductive labeling of trolls as “mindless” and suffering from “severe forms of attention deficiency.” Can we just say that all posts are subject to removal, especially those that divert attention and energy away from the goals of the group? Thanks.”

Another person posted something to the effect of -At first I thought this was a joke.  Radicals can be so humorless-

Perhaps radicals take language too seriously sometimes and in doing so we let it mask more important issues, but I still think its important to use empowering, non-oppressive language.  Its also a good way to introduce people to the subject of oppression (Hey, you shouldn’t use the word bitch because it represents x,y,z and is more than just a word.) This especially in public settings- meetings, websites, blog posts, etc.  Its really not that difficult to alter your language.  For me its a bit like recycling.  Is it going to save the environment?  No, because for me it is more important to tackle large corporations that produce the majority of pollution….but does it hurt to recycle?  No. Does it consume much of my time? No.  The important part is to not let yourself be convinced that by changing your language you are relieved of your privilege and responsibility to enact real change.

A recent post on Tiger Beatdown, addresses this issue in a really great way.  She states “…language is a symptom, not the disease. Language is a product of thought, not the thought. Language is an act, not the motive underlying the act. Language is an effect of the structure, not the structure. And although language shapes thought, gives us the tools we have to understand the world and thus limits and informs what we can know…changing language isn’t going to take us anywhere unless we change the structure itself.”  The post is perhaps a bit long, but you should definitely check out the full post here.


2 Responses to "Language Politics"

My friend down here quoted this in a conversation the other day. She quoted the recycling bit. Fa-mous!

I’m honored 🙂

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