Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday Musings: The Language of Things

Something my cousin said recently made me really think: 

"They also aren't [constantly] read[ing] about it or follow[ing] people who really talk about it so they don't have the language for the conversation."

This was in reference to talking to people about race and racism. Not just people, but people in places of privilege.* It's easy to talk about racism academically or historically. That's why most people can talk about the civil war and slavery in our country, because it happened. Key word "happened," as in past tense.

What makes us falter is what's going on now. When people are being pushed down by a system, society, or group of people we know it is wrong in our hearts. However, it is infinitely harder to talk about the situation when (often through no fault of your own) you are defined as a member of the more powerful group. It makes it hard to talk about the sensitive subject of prejudice and racism.

However, talking is exactly what needs to be done. How can we fix or change anything if we don't talk about it? And this is something that relates to writing and books in a huge way. Because we get a lot of our information from the books and news we read.  So, the question becomes, why can't people talk about these issues easily? It could be because of a strange feeling of guilt from being part of that privileged class, it could be because of ignorance (just not knowing the facts), it could be because they just don't care (which I deeply hope is not the case).

However, I think one of the main reasons is that they don't know how to talk about it in an informed way without knowing the facts and the language to use. However, they won't know those facts and that language until they talk about it. So it's really a vicious cycle.

You know what can help people learn these things without having to feel foolish or ignorant in front of their friends and peers?


Yes! Books about other cultures, other people, other lives that they don't innately know about. This is why movements like We Need Diverse Books exists. Because we do need diversity out there in book form, so that if someone wants to learn more about things they have resources.

(And I'd also like to note that these books should be vetted for using the proper language, so we're not putting out misinformation out there. There are some "diverse" books out there that were not properly researched. Misrepresentation is worse than no representation).

On a slightly tangential path, I want to talk about books about diversity versus diverse books (I'm using the term "diverse books" here to more specifically define books that are not diversity-issue-driven. That is, of course, not how it is usually used).

I read a tweet by author Varian Johnson:

He makes a great point in saying that a lot of the books he was given about blacks in America were about civil rights or slavery. A lot of the diverse books out there are issue books where the character's race, sexuality, disability, diversity is the main point of the book and character. That's fine, because these are issues we need to be discussing. However, we also should be discussing the everyday experiences of diverse people. As a child, I wanted to see myself in all of my favorite characters and heroes, but I couldn't see it 100% because I wasn't white. That's not to say that these characters don't rock, but there is so much room in the world of storytelling. Some of that space should be given to kick-butt diverse characters and stories as well.

*I want to say that sometimes when I say the word "privilege" people immediately shut down. Almost like I'm cursing or calling them a dirty name. I don't think privilege needs to be thought of as negative when it's mentioned on its own, it's the context that makes it bad. Having privilege doesn't make a person bad, abusing the privilege does. Doing nothing about the fact that you have that privilege and others don't. And especially using that privilege to keep others down.
A white friend asked me why I had to use the label "white privilege" and I said, "because that's a very accurate label. Some people have more de facto advantage in this world and they have that advantage because they are white. White privilege." However, a white person cannot control the color of their skin any more than a black, Latino, or Asian person. So, I hope that people can understand that these labels aren't personal attacks on someone's existence. It's more of an observation on how society exists, and a request that everyone looks at their situation and judges themselves based on how they act within that space.

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