Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Calm and Assertive...Dealing with Language

Cesar Millan is a famous dog whisperer that deals with owners and their dogs. It is he who believes that leadership comes from being "Calm and Assertive". This idea has some interesting applications in the human world, especially in teaching. I wanted to link this idea to the entry I have been planning write for a few days now because I believe it has a place in the solution. I am sure there is a theme visible in what I write about and the issues I talk about (within and outside of class) so this will not likely come as a surprise - I have been noticing and trying to find new ways to deal with language that is not inclusive. So here I will discuss a few of the more common phrases used that I believe lead to exclusion and hopefully leave with a part of a solution to help myself, and others, to be active witnesses.

Faggot: I would be curious to know how many people actually know what it means.
- A bundle of sticks and branches bound together
The term came to be an offensive term as referred to a male homosexual when a group of 'witches' used homosexual men as kindling for a fire.

It absolutely appalls me that someone could continue to use this word once educated as to its meaning. Yes, we have to consider that it is done simply to offend someone - but if all we can do is use words as incredibly terrible as this then all I can think of to say is that we are incredibly uncreative. But away from that tangent - those who are educated as to the origin of 'faggot' should feel obligated to pass on this information, should feel obligated to make it a part of who they are to prevent others from using it.

- Was once a diagnoses in the DSM for a medical condition or psychological disorder
At one point it would have been considered the 'proper' term to describe same-sex sexual orientation

The goal behind bringing this up is that we have to work on the context in which we use words - even words like 'homosexual' can have a negative connotation used in a wrong way. The same goes for words like 'gay', 'queer', 'lesbian', or 'trans'.

- Refers to an old anthropological reference to a skull structure consistent with those from Europe, North Africa, West Asia, and South Asia.
As one can venture, not all of these areas consist of what we know as "white" populations.

This is more of a personal pet peeve of the assumption that "Caucasian" is the politically correct way to refer to a white person. I am white. And yes, I happen to be Caucasian, but if you need to refer to my race or culture call me white or Canadian!

I will admit it can be difficult, and at times awkward, to use the word partner or to choose other gender neutral terms when asking about or referring to someones significant other - but at times the assumption that a person is straight or the assumption that a person is not straight is unfounded and we find ourselves in an awkward situation anyway.

Why not get in the habit of using gender neutral terms. Just because the societal "norm" is to be straight doesn't mean that a person who is not should be forced to choose to either lie to you by omission or have to "come out" to you just because your language implies you are assuming that person is straight. That small effort by you allows you to show you are an accepting person and makes others feel more comfortable around you. And hey, setting a good example doesn't usually hurt anyone.

I will sign off with a general comment - be aware of your own shortcomings when it comes to inclusive language. Take the time to realize when YOU are excluding someone simply through the use of a word or phrase and make the effort to find something else to say.

Take it one step further and find your most common generalizations (be they about race, gender, sexuality, parenthood, age, culture, etc). Take a second to think about a time when someone generalized you for being part of a group to realize that it is possible for people to fall outside of their groups 'norm' just like you did.

These are just a few of the "solutions" I was referring to. You will have to find your own - but the connection is that I have found it is much easier to be an active witness if you are calm (and assertive) about your views. Share your opinion, stand up for others, and stand up for yourself - but don't be afraid to listen to what the other person has to say as well!

Happy Lunar New Year!
And thank you for taking the time to read this entry and/or others.
Feel free to leave a comment just to let me know you stopped by =)

Do your part - be an active witness!

1 comment:

  1. I would add to your list the words "retard" and the noun "gyp" or the verb to be "gypped".

    It really bugs me to hear people saying those words.