Anne Lamott, Art, caitlyn jenner, college, damaging, emotional, language, LGBTQ, mental illness, mentally ill, people of color, POC, politically correct, the atlantic, trigger warnings, writer, writing
I spent some time with my niece this weekend, and she sent me an article to read about the language being challenged on many college campuses. In the article, the writer points out that in the 1980’s and 1990’s, we had a movement that pushed politically correct language – to change language that was considered demeaning to marginalized populations. If the writer of the article is correct, today there is a movement on college campuses not to use words that are “emotionally damaging” to students. This movement has made it necessary to put “trigger warnings” on some of the classics and to pull some books and ideas from classrooms altogether. Many teachers are not allowed to talk about rape or violence.
What I came away with is if you are a considerate person (not looking to harm or offend anyone) then it is difficult to talk about a myriad of issues without feeling insecure. It is almost easier not to say anything than to discuss these issues/topics and have a constructive, educational debate where both parties may learn from each other’s position.
I know I often feel fearful about talking about race. Recently, I have felt fearful writing about disability (even though I have a disability). I don’t feel completely comfortable talking about LGBTQ issues, and I occasionally even shy away from gender issues. Add those issues to the now “emotionally damaging” issues and you have a wide range of topics/issues that create fear and silence.
Taking books out of the curriculum and having people feel uncomfortable to begin even a conversation isn’t going to move us forward. Moving forward requires reading, talking, debating, and writing. If people are not willing to do any of those things, we will be stuck. There will be no progress.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a rant about Anne Lamott’s words about Caitlyn Jenner and about using the phrase manic depressive to describe someone who clearly wasn’t mentally ill. You can find my rant here. I want to apologize to her. I don’t want to silence her. I want her to make her mistakes openly and let there be a public discussion around them (which is what happened when she made an inappropriate comment about Caitlyn).
We need people to be fearless. We need people to talk about the issues surrounding marginalized populations, rape, violence, etc. We need these discussions. We can’t pull books, stop talking about negative social issues (rape and violence) and make others feel backward and stupid for not knowing the correct language to use to address a minority group.
I don’t know what to do about the censoring of “emotionally damaging” language. I am not a part of academia. I can read articles, talk to young people, and try to educate myself about what is happening there. I can speak out when I have more knowledge about it.
I do know what to do about speaking about marginalized groups, though. Those of us who are a part of a marginalized group need to let people talk without being defensive. We need to allow people to make mistakes. If it turns out that those mistakes are being made from a lack of education (not malice), then we need to either point them out gently or take the time to build a relationship with the person. In other words, we need to influence people over time not shame them and run.
I consider myself an advocate for people with severe mental illnesses. I consider myself an ally to those people who identify as LGBTQ. I consider myself an ally to people of color. I am a woman and support gender equality. No matter how passionate I am about any of these things, I want to remember compassion and gentleness for all people not just the ones I am trying to support.
Language is in trouble. Communication is in trouble. Books and essays are in trouble. Teachers are in trouble.
Silence isn’t going to bring us a society without rape or violence or a society that automatically supports the marginalized. That takes art and communication. Let’s support the fearless that are unafraid to step out and make mistakes so there can be conversations because it is those conversations that help open all of our minds.