voicing your triggers
Today I helped to host a discussion about LGBTQ allies and how they fit into Pride Month (Carleton celebrates in April) and one of the discussion topics that came up was how we communicate with our families about gender and sexuality as allies. One student said that with her really conservative relatives, she simply voices which words she will not accept and will leave if they speak them. I think this could be a really powerful method, especially for extreme cases – no one should have to tolerate hate speech at the dinner table.
But this discussion made me think of the type of language that makes me shut off dialogue, even though I don’t voice it. I notice these particularly when I’m reading an article or book – certain language makes me believe that I probably am not going to agree with the author at all, but I’m guessing it’s also largely true in person. Here are some of my triggers, beyond slurs directed at particular identities:
- “Playing the race card”: This idea is so pervasive and so angering. It came up recently in a book I was reading for class in which an author dismissed some criticisms of his work because the reviewers were “playing the race card”. He then did not explain the nature of their critiques and moved on the other reviewers. To me this ideology is absolutely a silencing mechanism. Renee of Womanist Musings wrote last year:
POC are often accused of playing the “race card,” when we speak critically about Whiteness and yet it is Whiteness, that continually overvalues itself and seeks to ensure that race is constantly spoken about on its terms. Controlling the conversation is just one of the many ways in which Whiteness manifests its powers.
Because “playing the race card” is used so often, it has become a particularly powerful form of controlling the conversation on race. When I hear or read someone use the term, I just see it as so indicative of a larger attitude towards people of color, that I find it really hard to continue to engage in a conversation about race.
- “Homosexuals” in place of “LGBTQ”: I know that there are a lot of people who identify as homosexual and many people who were raised on this as the “PC” term. However, it just describes SO FEW people in the LGBTQ community in a way that leaves out so many’s experiences. To me, it shuts downs the conversation because I feel it reveals that the person I’m talking to hasn’t made an effort to read any literature coming from LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the U.S. or from community members themselves. While the letters in and the order of the acronym is still debated and changing, I am hard pressed to find anyone arguing that “homosexuals” should be an umbrella term for anyone other than people who identify as such.
- “Had sex with” in place of “raped”: The Philadelphia Weekly had a great editorial about this recently,
“The language used… is even more dangerous because it’s like a new breed of euphemism hidden in plain sight. The language exists already. It’s the language of the perpetrator—and his defense team. It’s language that takes the point of view of the attacker—it was consensual; we had sex but I didn’t rape her, man.”
- “The obesity crisis”, “____ is making you fat”, etc.: Maybe because this is language that I feel more personally demeaned by, I normally am so exhausted by the idea of the process I’d have to go through to change their attitude that just I want to send them to Shapely Prose and out of my face.
So I’m voicing these hear not to defend or uphold my dismissal, but as an exercise in voicing your triggers, and to get feedback: Do you think it’s valuable to make any strict delineations in language? Can voicing triggers be a tool of advocacy or is it merely self preservation?
What are your triggers? How do you respond when you hear or read them?