Diversity terminology can be seen as a real rabbit hole, but is that a fair assessment?Is this complexity really necessary?
Let me use something I have come back into in the past week: the concept of the “squish”, to first demonstrate the layers at work here.
- First, a squish is defined as a crush, but for friendship, not romance.
- Second, squishes are part of the aromantic terminology, one word amongst many used to describe an intense urge to bond that isn’t part of a romantic desire, which can be difficult for some people to comprehend.
- Third, this will all sound like gobbledygook to someone who’s never heard of aromantic.
- Aromantic is when you don’t feel romantic desire, Many consider it part of the LGBTQUIA+ umbrella, and consider that the A stands for Aromantic/Asexual, not “Ally”.
- Finally (for this example!), LGBTQUIA+ is just one of the acronyms that is used to describe the gay rights movement. There is a long complex Wikipedia page about the alternative acronyms that have been in circulation.
That’s quite a trip.
And it is understandable that for some people, it leads to frustration.
This is because the litany of new vocabulary can be difficult to keep up with if you don’t use it. If you do use it, it’s frustrating because not everyone is keeping up with it.
When a baby feminist first discovers and identifies the concept of patriarchy, the fact that she never knew the word or concept before is mind blowing. It suddenly makes the whole world make more sense. It gives form to a vague uneasy feeling when you walk at night and are female, or enter a room with only men who don’t know you. It can be an illuminating experience.
But to the outsider, who doesn’t care to learn about the concept for their own reasons, it quickly becomes grating and cliched. Hence the stereotype about feminists blaming everything on the patriarchy. Hence the straw arguments about feminists blaming men for everything, as if they were synonymous. Hence further alienation for our baby feminist…
The same effect happens with socialist critique of capitalism. A wider understanding of the word (businesses, people being reimbursed for work and buying things with money) becomes conflated with a technical and political use of the word (a system in which ownership and rents are put above people and needs) to diminish the arguments of activists who speak out against capitalism.
Racism could be the most abused and poorly agreed on social theory term. Racism in activism is used to mean a hierarchal system of advantages and oppression of one ethnic group over other ethnic groups, which is currently the “white” ethnic group. Racism in the wider public is chronically misunderstood. It means “basic bigotry based on race” and is understood as “something which dark people are the main victims of”. This wider usage is not as connected as the social justice theory is. A concept of basic bigotry based on race doesn’t explain or legitimise why darker people are more often victims. This is why it gets seen as unfair, it is why people get accused of playing the “race card”, why people fight so adamantly that white people *must* be victims of “reverse” racism and also that the “reverse” part doesn’t make sense.
Privilege overlaps all of these. Privilege, meaning a comparative lack of certain systematic obstacles, gets understood to mean wealth, full-on bigotry, active oppression or greed.This is despite the fact the use and intent is about an absence of awareness of others obstacles, so to be “accused” of privilege is to be accused of ignorance, not wealth or cruelty. The wide use and misunderstanding is what led to it becoming so prevalent in Anti-SJ memes.
For there to be any sensible discussion, in any forum or place, about sensitive topics like race, sexuality and gender, first we must realise that we aren’t all speaking the same language.
Being fluent in justice-jargon can be fantastic when you are with others who speak it, but when you are around your mainstream parents? Not so effective. Your co-workers likely won’t speak it either. You will not be able to be better understood by wishing that others could use the words you do.
You use those words because you have conceptualised inequalities and oppression enough to use them.
For other people to use or understand them, they need to first of all see what you can see.
It will need plain language. It will not need text books or glossaries. It will need to be humble and inviting, not braggish and alienating, in order to make an effect.
Big concepts need small words, and small, slow introductions. In films, impassioned speeches work. Using technical language with fluency works. In films, people are baffled and impressed and won over with brilliance, but in reality, it often goes the other way. People are put off and feel alienated and ignorant. It is easy to direct that frustration at the dumb idealist kid who doesn’t know anything and their fancy made-up words. The words become a wedge between a SJW and their prospective audience, instead of the tool they were hoped to be.
The words have to come second to the concept. They have to grow naturally into people’s terminologies. You have to build up layer by layer. There’s no point starting five levels down at working what a squish is. By the time you reach ground level again you’ve lost your audience under a tonne of subjects they don’t know, and become confusing instead.
For example, a simple visual or graphic can sometimes be very effective and accessible. This one very simply illustrates the aromantic identity:
So now I’ve explained that the complexity comes from the subject matter, and the vast differences in the understanding of sociological concepts. The language causes friction and can exacerbate those differences if not carefully avoided.
Why not do away with confusing language all together?
That is the question I hope to be answering next week, so please stay tuned.
This post kind of got away from me today, but I guess I had some strong feelings about the terminology turf wars that people have been having for so long. This might become a vein I go deeper into in the next few weeks in general, if I can keep my attention focused enough. I hope this was useful. If any of the descriptions are wrong or misleading please let me know in the comments below as they were my own interpretations and I am subject to bias and human error. I’m enjoying writing more and really hoping to build up the content on this blog this year! Thank you for reading this far! See you next week!