What Can I Do: Part 4 (or just one more)
Do you call those without housing “the homeless”?
Do you talk about “entitlements”?
When someone commits a crime, do you respond with “thugs”?
James Deke Pope, who has served on the Community Advisory Board of Memphis’s Africa in April, suggests we pay attention to the language we use and change it if necessary. Mr. Pope attended the race and power workshop at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral last weekend, which I wrote about here. At the end of the gathering when the time came to offer comments, Mr. Pope suggested we quit saying “police force” and rename them “peace keepers.”
Can you feel the shift that occurs with that change?
Another reaction might occur too. Maybe you don’t fundamentally agree with the implication of the change. “Well, they aren’t peace keepers. They’re enforcers of the law.” As they say, it’s not just semantics.
Whether you see reactions as “riots” or “uprisings”—another Mr. Pope suggestion—will, in fact depend on your world view. The point, of course, is to be aware of your world view and use language accordingly.
I’m sure Mr. Pope’s suggestion resonated with me because I am a writer. I deal in words. But the truth is, we all deal in words. Every day. We choose how to characterize something. If you share my frequent laziness, you might go with the flow and use whatever words everyone else is using. Or you might roll your eyes at this focus on words as political correctness. (The Tennessee legislature so objected to a non-gendered pronoun they’re holding hearings on it.) But remember the shift from police force to peacekeepers. It’s not just words. Beneath the words lie positions. We should all respect ourselves well enough to think about whether our words properly reflect our positions.
If you believe there is no such thing as a monolithic bloc known as “the homeless,” you might want to say “men and women experiencing homelessness,” in recognition that this is a time in a person’s life, not the person.
If you believe that those receiving assistance paid taxes for many, many years before needing some help, you might not want to call them “entitlements.”
If you decry broad brush racial stereotyping that effectively dehumanizes people, “thugs” might not be your go-to word.
You probably have your own suggested word changes. Mine, obviously, come from my own world view and life experiences. Words. Help me to thoughtfully set them adrift in the world.