Last month I was honored to deliver the keynote address at the annual conference of the Publishing Professionals Network, a San Francisco Bay–area nonprofit that supports people working in the book publishing field. The theme of the conference was “Publishing in a Diverse World.” It was a wonderful gathering of folks invested in using books as a tool for positive change. Here’s what I shared with them, slightly edited for publication purposes.Continue reading “Conscious Communication and the Power of Language”
How to Write About Abortion in Trans-Inclusive Ways: 7 Best Practices
As a young person in the ’90s, one of the first and foundational experiences of radical copyediting I had was when I encountered folks who advocated for calling abortion opponents “anti-choice” rather than using their own term for themselves—“pro-life.” It was immediately apparent to me how powerful words were in shaping perception, and how vital it was to not lend validity to the mythology that the anti-abortion lobby is primarily concerned with “life.”
Back then, I couldn’t imagine a world without Roe v. Wade, but I also couldn’t imagine a world in which trans and nonbinary people like me were seen as real and valid and worthy of visibility in language. Today, those who understand the power of words are tasked with a new challenge: how to talk about the wreckage of Roe and who is being most impacted without erasing anyone.
The landscape of gender, bodies, rights, justice, and language is super complex and nuanced, so our approaches to it have to be complex and nuanced too. Here are seven practices that can help.Continue reading “How to Write About Abortion in Trans-Inclusive Ways: 7 Best Practices”
The Power of Everyday Language to Cause Harm
Anyone who has ever experienced bullying, harassment, or oppression knows that the age-old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is at best wishful thinking and at worst a lie. This adage has been passed down, generation to generation, as if it’s a shield that can ward off the impacts of hateful speech, but it’s no protection at all. Words, like arrows, cut through the falsehood that only physical assaults cause pain, debilitation, and death.
Violence takes infinitely variable forms. Death can occur from a single gunshot or from long-term low-level exposure to a toxin. No one would say that lead is harmless simply because it won’t kill you immediately if you ingest some. Words are the same way—most often, they cause harm through accumulation, not one-time use.Continue reading “The Power of Everyday Language to Cause Harm”
Re-Humanizing Immigrant Communities in the Age of Trump: 5 Language Practices
Over the last year, a number of public figures have drawn praise and ire for referring to the facilities in which tens of thousands of people are being imprisoned by the United States without due process as concentration camps.
What has resulted is a “rhetorical cacophony regarding historical accuracy and proper terminology,” in the words of Lauren Duca of The Independent.
If, like me, you believe that language not only describes but creates reality, the primary question should not be “what is the correct definition of concentration camp and is that definition being accurately applied?” but rather “how am I morally obligated to describe and respond to what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border?”
The five practices below are designed to help you use language to humanize in the face of dehumanization and practice liberation in the face of violence and hate. But first, some context.Continue reading “Re-Humanizing Immigrant Communities in the Age of Trump: 5 Language Practices”
What’s in a Word: white supremacy
What does it mean?
White supremacy is a system or social order that keeps power and resources consolidated among white elites, using an ideology (or way of understanding the world) that upholds whiteness—including white people, white cultural values, and white institutions—as being best or most “normal.”Continue reading “What’s in a Word: white supremacy”
Radical Vocabulary: Post-Election Words to Know
Sometimes you want help understanding the meaning of a word, but you’re not sure whether you can trust a dictionary to give you a definition that is rooted in anti-oppression.
Most dictionaries were originally written by white, wealthy, educationally elite, straight, able-bodied men, which means normative assumptions and prejudices about how words should be used were written into them. And although dictionaries—like words themselves—have evolved, not all of their definitions give you the information you really need, or adapt quickly enough to provide you with fully current meanings of words.
Having a radical vocabulary can help you use language to unpack oppression, violence, and hate—and in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, this couldn’t be more essential. So here’s a list of the top words to know since the election. Continue reading “Radical Vocabulary: Post-Election Words to Know”
What’s in a Word: white nationalism
What does it mean?
White nationalism is a sector of the U.S. right-wing political sphere that is characterized by a white supremacist ideology.
As Chip Berlet explained, in a 1992 piece co-authored with Margaret Quigley, white nationalism “oscillates between brutish authoritarianism and vulgar fascism in service of white male supremacy” and white nationalists believe that “social problems are caused by uncivilized people of color, lower-class foreigners, and dual-loyalist Jews.” Continue reading “What’s in a Word: white nationalism”
The New York Times, Radically Copyedited: Reporting on Bias
Yesterday, The New York Times published the article “On Campus, Trump Fans Say They Need ‘Safe Spaces,'” by Anemona Hartocollis. Showcasing an appalling lack of responsible journalism, the piece attempted to present a “balanced” take on heightening tension on college campuses in the wake of the U.S. presidential election. Continue reading “The New York Times, Radically Copyedited: Reporting on Bias”
What’s in a Word: alt-right
What’s in a Word?
What does it mean?
The term alt-right, short for “alternative right,” refers to a recently developed affiliation of far-right conservatives, organized largely by way of social media, whose primary common ground is white supremacy. Continue reading “What’s in a Word: alt-right”
Part 5: It’s Time to Put “Political Correctness” Back Where It Belongs
I follow the school of thought that the purpose of language conventions and standards is to help people communicate as effectively as possible across lines of difference, not that their purpose is to promote one “right” or “correct” way of speaking, writing, or being.
Holding “correctness” as sacred means valuing rules more than lives, homogeneity more than diversity, norms more than divergent experiences, and standards more than feelings. There is nothing sacred or inherently valuable about being “correct.” Here’s what’s sacred and valuable: respect, care, agency, empowerment, liberation.
So don’t ask yourself, “Am I being politically correct?”—rather, ask yourself, “Am I being respectful and caring toward the full range of human experience?” Continue reading “Part 5: It’s Time to Put “Political Correctness” Back Where It Belongs”