Should I Use the Adjective “Diverse”?

A flowchart illustrating whether or not a particular use of the word "diverse" is correct.

It has long been a pet peeve of mine that the word diverse is widely misused in the English language. Diverse is defined by Merriam-Webster (my favorite dictionary) as:

  1. differing from one another
  2. composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities

Unfortunately, diverse gets misused to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be mainstream, dominant, or the cultural norm.

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Why It’s Incredibly Problematic to Call White Supremacists “Insane”

Graphic using speech bubbles to illustrate why it's important to stop calling white supremacists "insane": When people say "insane white supremacists," "these KKK marches are crazy," "the USA has gone made," and "racism is a mental illness," what they are really saying is "people with disabilities are abnormal; it's an insult to be compared to them," "people with mental health conditions are dangerous, violent, criminal," "racism is irrational; an abnormality; history, not current reality," and "racism is caused by individuals, not by systems of white supremacy."

As white supremacists march in cities across the country this month, inciting terror and violence, a lot of people are calling such people “crazy,” “insane,” or “mentally ill.” Beyond the well-documented fact that white lawbreakers are often described by the media in markedly different ways from those who are people of color, calling racism a “mental illness” has got to stop. Here’s why.

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What’s in a Word: white supremacy

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.”

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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. 

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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.”

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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.

From the article:

According to a campuswide message from Mark Schlissel, the university’s president, bias incidents have been reported. A student walking near campus was threatened with being lit on fire because she wore a hijab. Other students were accused of being racist for supporting Mr. Trump.

A responsible journalist would never equate the act of naming an ugly truth about another person with the act of threatening another person’s life. Unlike threatening to set a Muslim woman on fire is, using the word racist is not an act of bias when the person you are referring to has taken actions that actively support overt racism—such as voting for or supporting Donald Trump.

Anyone who says otherwise, and any publication that prints such a false equivalence, is anything but “balanced”; rather, doing so furthers the oppression of marginalized peoples.