Talking about Talking

Joke:
Q: Why do progressives have such long meetings?
A: Because our respect for the right of each individual and group to articulate the terms by which they and their experience are referred to and the metaconversation we need to have about who is “centered” and/or privileged in and by our language means that we value precision and alternative narratives in groups composed of members who may not share experiences, meaning, values, or levels of socioeconomic power rooted in structural and historical patterns…..

You get the idea.

All this language we need to talk about is dynamic. Harry Belafonte is reported to have said “When I was born, I was colored. I soon became a Negro. Not long after that I was black. Most recently I was African-American.”  This dynamic nature is not just across time (dating back to the Reconstruction), but also within it: Different people want to be referred to in different ways for a combination of personal, social, and historic reasons. And who is doing the talking and who they are talking to and where they are talking makes a huge difference. In my world, white folk don’t get to use the n-word unless they are talking about how to disable the cruel history carried within it, and even that permission is highly contextual. In my world, “Politically  Correct” is just another way to say that we should talk to and about people in the way they want. If that takes a little extra work, I’m okay with that.

Race isn’t the only complicated subject requiring nuanced language, but it’s a good one to explore because it’s not real. Anthony Appiah and many others make a solid case that race doesn’t hold up as a measurable thing. What does hold up is the concept of racial identities, which are based on social and psychological labels. As I see it, this concept provides the language we need in order to resist the negative power of those labels. It makes sense these conversations would be complicated, because they aim to break down collective misconceptions. (Insert Matrix reference here.)

I promised a friend I’d try to keep these posts short(er) so I’ll stop here, even though I didn’t get to “centering” “privilege”, “marginalization”, “colonialization” or “People of Color”.  Are there any you wonder about?

(She also suggested pictures.)

 

Author: Aron DiBacco

Aron thinks about conflict, communication, and how to help move the world in the direction of inclusive equity. She does these things through teaching, facilitating dialogue, social science research, and writing.

2 thoughts on “Talking about Talking”

    1. As near I understand so far, the quest for precision feels like a difference without a distinction to some people. An example is that “transgender” (preferred*) is an adjective describing something about a person and “transgendered” is a verb something a person does. To call a person transgendered implies they were one of the two genders, that they did something, and became the other. Transgender, on the other hand, affirms one’s core gender identity along a very fluid continuum. I can be cis-female (“normal”), but I can’t “female” (unless, of course, we are talking about the performance of gender, which is a little off topic.)

      Anyway, I think these types of critical but subtle differences feel silly to some people, and we are overly sensitive for caring. What most seems to change this perspective is loving someone in the affected groups, or at least it helps.

      *http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joanne-herman/transgender-or-transgende_b_492922.html

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