Sunday, August 25, 2013

Vocabulary Of Oppression

So what do you think are the characteristics of a marginalized community?

Stop and think for a moment, what are the signs of oppression?

When I was in grad school we studied oppression and how it affects society and one of the first things that we learned was the language of oppression. What terms have been used to describe immigrants? Pick any ethnic group and there were derogatory terms used, whether it was the Italians, Irish, Chinese or Mexicans there was some slang term that was used to oppress them.

The trans-community is no exception; there is a language that is used to oppress us; shemales, he-shes, it and many more. There was an article on NBC News Technology webpage about pronouns and what caught my attention was this,
"I know personally how dehumanizing it is to have someone address me with a name or a pronoun that does not fit who I am as a person," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, who is a transgender man. "When people and the media are not accepting Manning's news of her transition, it sends a message to other transgender people, that they are not accepted."

This dehumanizing effect influences how transgender people are treated in society and the workplace and how they see themselves.

Given these cultural and legal struggles, accepting the use of a requested pronoun is a minimal trade-off, advocates argue.
The language of oppression is meant to dehumanizing, it is meant to marginalize, us against them. In Stephanie Wildman’s “Language of Silence: Making System of Privilege Visible” she writes, “Language contributes to the invisibility and the regeneration of privilege.” She goes on to write what is the first question that is asked about when someone has a baby, “is it a boy or girl?” Why do we ask that question and not “is the baby healthy?” It is because we want to label the child, we want to put the baby in a box either marked boy or girl. We use language to define who is in a privilege group and who is not; when someone calls us “it” they are identifying us to be outside of the privilege group. We also use language to oppress within a culture, when someone uses the word “transvestite” or “just a crossdresser” they are using language to establish their dominance over a sub-culture.

There is a term for this type of use of the language of oppression, microagression. It is not all out violent; it is not physical but psychological in its use of language to establish dominance over a group. Miss use of pronouns, call us by our old name, ridiculing, shunning or ignoring are all forms of microagression. Microagression is like a dripping faucet, it is no big deal but over time that dip, dip, dip… adds up to a headache. Miss using pronouns is no big deal but constant pin prick tears down your self-esteem and is used to dehumanize and marginalize you and the community.

The best defense is an offense, speak up, act out! When you hear a radio DJ make derogatory comments or use putdowns call the station or write to the station or post on their Facebook page, do anything to make it known that their comments are not acceptable. The way to fight microagression is to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable.

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