When I was in my teens, people started paying attention to vocabulary as a means of social change. So, I would say that I grew up in an era of what has come to be called Political Correctness. And, like anything that asks you to pay attention to yourself, we reacted strongly against it. We would much rather someone else be responsible than to take responsibility. But I remember going through J. Fennimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer and finding first-hand how we described Indigenous people (and he was seen as sympathetic). I bring this up, because my son pointed out to me that we seem to have arrived at a point where the precision of language is working against us. For anyone who knows me, there is clarity on how hard that is to write down. But let’s look at this.
In a time when racial, gender, and economic restrictions are being examined at levels heretofore unseen in this country along with a need to understand from a variety of perspectives, I have found we are edging out opportunities for growth. To illustrate, I will use myself to avoid liability litigation from others.
I became aware of issues around race, gender and class very slowly. I grew up in a white, middle class rural community. My contact to race was Soul Train, I had no idea that was any other way to look at gender than men & women seeking each other and economic disparity was addressed with food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was the problem. But I was blessed to become part of the solution.
I have already posted where I have ended. But the key here, in this piece, is to make clear people tolerated me saying some really stupid things (stupid from my perspective today), informed me why they were ineffective and helped me to see a bigger picture. In the same way we are becoming clear that poverty is a reason, not an excuse, we need to have the same patience with the privileged. I know we want to make someone the bad guy. But my experience is that the opposite of war is not peace, it is collaboration. In the same vein as I would never tell a rape victim that she should forgive her rapist, I would never put forth that people of color need to just share a coke and hug with the racist in the neighborhood and life will get better. But the fact is, my job, as a “white guy aware,” is to connect with those folks, and get them to see a bigger picture.
What I am asking is that, in education, in social media, in discussions anywhere, try not to jump down someone’s throat because they use the wrong nomenclature. Not everyone may be as educated, as aware, as informed as you, but their heart may be just as big. Minds are changed through compassion and that works in all directions. I am blessed because someone, actually several someones, took the time to walk me through. Don’t be pissed because someone chooses not to, just keep moving. But the more conversations we can have where the emphasis is on precision rather than correctness, the more chance we have to move people to a new level of understanding. And THAT is what I want in my classroom.