Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Let's really talk about language...

Personally, I am not sure what that post about "retarded" in comparison to other words have to do with this community. The only way I can see it as being relevant is within a larger conversation about language.

When I was coming into a progressive consciousness, I liked to interrogate language, too, and use that as a means to feel that I was superior to other people and also to dismiss them. I want to ask that we are very careful...

But what about language?

I am a transgendered person who refuses to use "ze" and "hir" because I think they are stupid -- personally. I am a gay person. I don't feel implicated when people say something is "gay" and yet, I understand why "gay" is used in that manner. What I am trying to get at with these examples is that it is not that people use language that is potentially harmful and anti-progressive but WHY the language is used, what it is getting at.

When someone says that someone or something is "retarded" or "lame" I do not think they are referring to people who are differently able. Do you? Is it the usage that is problematic or the words themselves? Because if it is the word, get over it -- no, really. My argument is not one about words and power, but about words and usage and how you cannot stop people from using language that is potentially harmful: I *wish* I could obliterate the word "nigger" -- I wish no white person would use it evereverever because it can never be right to be, however, I have no control over that. The only "control" I have is not to associate with white people who would use that word or B/black people or people in between... or just people who would use it with the lightness of the word "the".

So, if we are going to think about usage (i.e. what is meant when a word is used), that means we should also consider ways in which we can guard against being simply reactionary and really thinking critically about it -- since words like these are usually used in lieu of something else. I mean, in what ways are we closing our ears to what is being really said and in what ways are we willing to be "ok" with that? Consider: You cannot be progressive if you are not listening to people. You have to know people in order to try and change the world, right (if that is even your goal)... how does policing language make that goal impossible and where do we draw lines between the language of friends, lovers, co-workers, activists?

Do we police language?

How do we police language?

How do we start thinking about language in a manner that gets us beyond "amen-cornering" and starts us really thinking critically about language and the power of words and learning when words mean and when words do not mean.

Take the n-word for example:

As a B/black Southerner, I had to learn when it meant and when it did not mean in order to not get my ass lynched (even social lynching is lynching). Later, I realized the ways in which my subjectivity was compromised and felt in a big bang, and then I returned to a place of listening. I can't create the kind of world I think I would want and I am glad for it because I would rather live in *this* world, you know -- ignorant so-and-sos and all.

How can I know what has to be done if I make it so I cannot listen to other people without dismissing them because they are not using the language I would prefer them to use?

As a person of color, my words are often dismissed and unheard because of who I am, because of what I am not, because I am not white. At 30 years old, I have had a rich life filled with the experiences of this. Dismissed, not heard, not recognized, because of language and the dynamics that go along with language that prescribe what is heard and what is not. However, I am just one person.

Being one person whose first job is to listen deeply and closely to other people (in order to not fall for bullshit... the folks at church always said, "The Devil can quote scripture, too." I allude to this to remind everyone that being able to *speak* the "right" language does not mean being able to internalize it, or own it, or act it, or even sit with it... it means you can convince everyone that you are not "like that" thus setting your own ability to "get free" even further out... ANYONE can use the "right words" -- speak the "right language." We have to have something other than language to determine the space of one's heart.), I know that the majority of people of color go voiceless, dismissed because of language. Look, for pop cultural instance, at Jade from America's Top Model. Sure, she talks out of her ass and creates words in order to perform what has been internalized for her is intelligence, but people act as if they cannot understand her, cannot understand the easily understandable logic of her language. And that's one small and even insignificant example (depending on perspective), but it begins to address the problem of language and the ways in which it is used to privilege those who can use it "correctly" without regard to that person's ultimate goal. Even the Devil can quote scripture.

Can we brainstorm on the ways in which language renders us deaf in the hopes of opening up our ears? Also, comment as you want, but I am not "arguing"/debating -- FYI for the ones of you who need that.

Peacefulness and Light,

Quentin Ergane


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