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  • Writer's pictureJessica Jaymes Purdy

Minding Our Language: Setting The Stage to End Harm

How Words Can Conceal and Enable Harm: Article 11

A yellow sticker that reads "say it more precisely" on something blue.

Throughout this series, we have explored the ways that language can be used to minimize, obscure, and enable harm against marginalized groups. We’ve seen how words like "backlash," "disagreement," "opinion," "protection," and "jokes" can be weaponized to make hate, bigotry, harassment, and abuse seem more benign and acceptable than they truly are.

We have examined how this language obscures power dynamics, gaslights people, and shields perpetrators from accountability. We have traced how it taps into biases and misconceptions to make injustice easier to swallow. We have outlined the devastating impacts it has on those targeted by hate and intolerance.

But we have also seen the power of precise, honest language to cut through the smokescreen of minimization. We have highlighted examples like Lady Gaga's response to anti-trans hate, which modeled the courage to name bigotry directly. We have shown the necessity of using words that center the lived realities of marginalized and oppressed groups.

The core insight of this series is that the language we use matters in the fight for social justice. The words we choose shape how we and others perceive and respond to the world around us. They can either illuminate the truth in all its complexity or distort it beyond recognition. They can either challenge systems of oppression or prop them up.

Working for a more just and equitable society requires a commitment to linguistic integrity. It requires a willingness to interrogate the language we use and to ask hard questions about whose interests it serves. It requires us to be precise and unflinching in naming injustice, even when it makes others uncomfortable. It requires us to consciously choose words that honor the humanity and lived experiences of those on the margins.

So, to every reader of this series, I implore you: be vigilant about language. Train yourself to notice when words are being used to downplay or disguise hate and harm. Question framings that obscure power dynamics or erase the realities of the oppressed. Reject linguistic tricks that make abusers seem reasonable and the abused seem "oversensitive."

When you see injustice being minimized through language, speak up. Name it for what it is, clearly and directly. Explain how that language functions to excuse the inexcusable. Offer alternative framings that put the focus back where it belongs: on the actions of the perpetrators and the suffering of the victimized.

In your own life and work, commit to using language in a way that advances truth and justice. Be thoughtful about your words. Aim for precision and nuance. Amplify the voices and perspectives of those with lived experiences of marginalization. Avoid falling into lazy linguistic habits that perpetuate problematic narratives.

But also recognize that this work is hard and messy. We are all steeped in cultures that normalize oppression in part through language. Unlearning those patterns is a lifelong process filled with missteps. Extend grace to yourself and others. Be open to feedback and growth. Keep pushing forward with humility and determination.

The ultimate goal of this linguistic conscientiousness is to build a world where no one's humanity is minimized or denied. It is to create a society where everyone's inherent dignity is affirmed and celebrated with our words and our deeds. It is to forge communities of authentic belonging, where even our language makes clear that all are welcome and valued.

This is the just and vibrant world we must strive to speak into existence. It is a world where our words are not weapons that dehumanize but are tools for honoring our shared humanity. It is a world where honesty and compassion triumph over obfuscation and callousness. It is a world where the truth of injustice is spoken so clearly that it can no longer be ignored.

This world is possible, but it will not come about by accident. It will be built through the conscious and courageous word choices of people like you. So let us all commit to being stewards of language that illuminates, language that liberates, speech that paves the way to collective justice and enables everyone to flourish. Let us speak truth to power at every turn.

The words we use have the power to shape our reality. Let us wield that power with integrity, with clarity, with unshakable conviction. Let us talk about injustice in a way that makes it visible and clearly labels it as unacceptable. Let us use language to create a world where all people can thrive.



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