On -isms: By Any Other Name

By | Thursday, September 28, 2017 Leave a Comment
I grew up in a region that called carbonated sugary soft drinks "pop." Everyone around me called it that, and that was the only word I knew for it so that's what I used as well. When I went off to college, though, I met people from other regions who called the same thing "soda." I thought that was a much better word. "Pop" is really an ugly word with that hard "p" on either end and an almost absent single vowel sound in the middle. It's not so much a word as just a noise, and an irritating one at that. I quickly stopped using "pop" and starting using "soda." I've been a "soda" person since then. I'm in something of a minority as I still live in the Midwest, but people still understand what I mean and I don't have to use an ugly word.

I use that as an example of how we use language that we're taught and often don't give it much thought until an alternative is presented. "That's just what that's called." But if we learn of a better term -- whether that's because of phonetics or some other reason -- there's no good reason not to adopt that newer term.

I also grew up around people who used... unflattering terms for everything from "spiderwort" to "ding-dong-ditch." Again, I didn't hear those things called anything other than what people around me were calling them, so that's what I knew them as. I didn't know anyone who might be offended by the slanderous terms, and I certainly didn't intend to demean anybody when I used them, but when I finally did come to understand that they utilized derogatory language, I opted for other non-offensive wording. Which wasn't difficult since they were terms I used much less frequently than "soda" anyway.

The point I'm trying to make here is that your personal history is not an excuse. "That's just what we called..." is not a valid argument for continuing to use offensive language today. If you grew up with everyone around using undirected slurs in everyday conversation, and you used that wording as well, that's more of an indictment of the people around you. But if/when you got old enough to realize that the words were offensive, then it becomes an indictment on you if you continue to use them. Because now you know better. Now you consciously know that you're saying something offensive and you're making a deliberate choice to be offensive.

And the same can be applied to your work in general. Not just the specific wording but the visuals and the broad characterizations. Maybe you did grow up in a time when any Black people portrayed in comics were drawn as Blackface caricatures, but if you know that's offensive, the only reason to perpetuate that is to be deliberately offensive. Maybe you did grow up where Jewish characters were always money-grubbing misers, but if you know that's offensive, the only reason to perpetuate that is to be deliberately offensive.

We spend our entire lives learning. Maybe it's not always formalized like in a classroom setting, but we're always learning. And if you ignore those learnings in favor of using slanderous language just because you don't feel like changing, then you are part of the problem! You are just as guilty for race riots as the person who threw the first brick. Because you're saying that you knew what you were saying was wrong, offensive, and fostered hatred for another group but you went ahead anyway. You're saying that bigotry is okay. You're saying that hating others is okay. You're saying that you don't care about other people. You're saying, "Fuck everybody else! I'm the only one who matters!"

And you wonder why people don't like you.
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