Language Matters

I have been writing this post in my head for about three weeks now and I decided it was time I put pen to paper before it got any bigger. Forewarning this post is going to contain a few links as points of reference.

In a previous post, The Wet Blanket, towards the end of the post I mentioned an assignment about baseball that I was working on with a few other class members. When discussing the assignment in the post I brought up concerns I had around sexism, what I left out were concerns I had surrounding other “isms”.

The worksheet we were collaborating on asked a question about how the players were picked, in reference to baseball players who play professionally. The members of my group wanted to answer the question by saying the best players from around the nation are recruited. WRONG. I saw that as a classist answer. I explained to my group that we cannot use the word “best” because we can not say definitively that the players chosen are in fact “the best”. My group did not agree with me. I continued to explain that what if the best basketball player to ever live dropped out of school at 16 to start working and help his family afford their bills? Not everyone has the same access because of socioeconomic status therefore we cannot say definitively that those who play MLB are the “best”. This should help explain how ended up with the nickname Wet Blanket in this group. The point I was trying to make when challenging my group on this particular answer was language matters.

That class was the original birth place of this post that has gained momentum since then.

In another class a group assignment was given where we, as a group, have to present on the topic of disability. Our goal is to help the class to become culturally competent when engaging with individuals from this population. The professor asked that we do independent research to become versed on our topic outside of the information available to us in the book. In doing so he actually recommended that we look on the internet for articles and not just at peer-reviewed articles.I was surprised and delighted to hear this. Normally any research conducted has to come from peer-reviewed sources and while I actually enjoy reading journal articles I knew just the place to look for articles on the internet.

One of my favorite go-to places for interesting articles is Everyday Feminism, I have referenced this site before when writing posts about social justice issues, it is one of my favorite online resources. So I started searching for articles that I thought might be relevant and thought provoking, they had many to choose from. One of the articles I chose illustrates how oppressive ableist language is, it can be read in its entirety here.

I shared this article and another that I liked with my group members via email and then last night after class three of us had the opportunity to discuss the content. Coincidentally all three of us worked on the baseball assignment together as well in the other class. Myself and another group member who read the article discussed how pervasive ableist language is in everyday conversation in America. The third group member then made a comment about how he thinks it is okay when you are hanging out with friends but not around other people who could be hurt by it. WRONG. I explained that ableist language is no different than sexist, racist or homophobic language. He tried to defend his side further by stating that what you say with your friends is different than what you say in front of other people. He ended by saying don’t you think? I explained that personally I do not agree and our other group member then chimed in and said that is how this type of language becomes acceptable in the first place is because of attitudes like that. I was grateful for her input, it is exhausting being the only voice of opposition sometimes.

This morning I was researching blockers for a case study on a transgender child I am working on. While immersed in my work I stumbled upon another great article that is titled The Power of Language. It speaks directly to what my classmate was talking about last night. Language seeped in “isms” is always hurtful even when you’re just talking with friends and this person’s story outlines that perfectly.

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