Say what you mean and Mean what you say

One thing that has been brought to my attention recently is the way that language perpetuates social injustices. We’ve been talking about it in my Justice Studies class and I’ve been feeling really convicted about the way that I speak, and the words which I use. We don’t realize that by using words such as “lame”, “retarded, “racist” and “rape” lightly, we’re perpetuating the idea that our [unjust] social systems are okay. The problem is, in fact, that no one likes to think they’re a part of the problem. But even for those of us who are privileged, often one person’s privilege is another person’s oppression. So, here are a list of things that I have noticed that I, myself, say commonly, as well as things that I’ve noticed other people say, and could be leading to discrimination and inequality:

“That’s so retarded”: Mental Retardation is a handicap, referring to a group of people who are disabled, and because of their disability, do not receive social equality. By using the name of a disability to describe things our situations in a negative way is only furthering that their condition is below that of a fully abled person, and it’s discriminatory.

“That’s lame”: As if a synonym to “That stinks” we say “That’s [someone who has lost their ability to walk]”

“Oh my gosh, you’re gonna, like, get raped”: translation “you are walking home alone which probably isn’t the safest thing to do”. While rape is a real, scary, possible thing, this is usually said as a joke. Rape isn’t funny. Women are perpetuating the idea that rape is common and ok by joking about it. This in turn says “men can dominate over women”. #socialinjustice.

“He’s cute for a black (hispanic/asian/insert racial minority) guy”: Really? He can’t just be cute for a guy? period? Hokay.

“That’s gay”: Last year one of my best friends would always say this, and to make things awkward, I’d say “Yeah you’re right, how homosexual”. Because we don’t really mean homosexual when we say “that’s gay”, but that’s what we’re saying. And we’re saying it with a negative connotation that allows people to belittle others because of their sexual orientation.

With most of these things, anyone would say “oh, well I would never mean it like that”. That’s just the thing. We become comfortable. We begin to take the path of least resistance. We say things because they’re phrases and just things that people say to one another.

My freshman year in High School, I stopped saying “That’s gay” because my best friend came out of the closet as a homosexual male. He told me personally that he found this phrase hurtful and demeaning. Not only did I stop, but I called other people out, even if it was awkward. My entire family stopped saying it, and most of my friends. Not only did my [wildly conservative] family stop saying “That’s gay”, but their entire belief system on equality based on sexual orientation changed. Be the one to be different. Because we each have the opportunity to make a difference. If we change our speech, we change what is considered okay.