The violence of language
I’ve had a few people ask why I, and so many others I know, can’t just “shrug off” comments from people, in person and online, that demean and deny our existence.
The common refrain is that “they didn’t mean it” or that “they are just trolling” or even that “I shouldn’t let it get to me.” To the people who say that, I ask:
“Have you spent your whole life being told to ignore those who work hard to make sure you don’t matter?”
Language can be weaponized; when used in certain ways, over lifetimes, language can be violent. To those of us whose life, lifestyle, and existence faces threat every day, especially from those who articulate that threat through language, words become trauma and that trauma accumulates over time.
When you use language to dismiss those who are always dismissed, when you marginalize those in the margins, when you denigrate those who are always insulted, when you exclude those who are never included: you are committing violence. Over the years, the trauma from that violence adds up to a lifetime of being told that we are never enough, we will never belong.
Disagreement and debate is fine when done in a civil way; actively dismissing my right to think, exist, live, and be is not disagreement, but is instead violence. I have the right to seek safety from this weaponized language, to not subject myself to this trauma.
To you, a person may just be “trolling” or may be casually ignored, but remember: language matters, and language is important. I have a right to ensure my safety—a right I have had to fight for after a lifetime of being in the margins—by acknowledging the trauma of those words and stepping away.
A few things to read and explore:
We are on our way to New Orleans for the weekend, so this edition of weekend reading is being posted from the airplane and might be a bit sparse on context and commentary, but here are some great links to discover:
- The New Yorker, The Economist and Steve Bannon’s squad of useful idiots
- Listening for Silence With the Headphones Off
- What Does It Mean to ‘Sound’ Black?
- The Great Chinese Art Heist
- New apple variety debuts at State Fair
- What a conductor actually does on stage
- The jaw-dropping story behind an NFL coach’s search for his family
- Robert Munsch’s countless acts of kindness to schools
- Clair de Lune, by Yoann Bourgeois and Alexandre Tharaud