Some activists defend the focus on language, saying that the way people use words is not mere symbolism but is necessary to achieve justice.
“Saying something like, ‘Blacks are less likely to get a loan from the bank,’ rather than saying, ‘Banks are less likely to make loans to blacks,’ might seem like I am putting it differently.” Rashad Robinson. , president of the racial justice organization Color of Change. “But ‘Blacks are less likely to get a loan from the bank’ makes people wonder, ‘What’s wrong with Blacks? Let’s get them financial education programs. ‘ The other way is to say, ‘What’s wrong with the banks?’ “
Robinson added: “When you’ve been on the sidelines, being able to claim a language, a narrative, and a set of words to express yourself is incredibly important.”
Still, some other self-identified liberals who said they care deeply about social justice are uncomfortable with some of the changes and the pressure that may be associated with them.
Chicago’s Ms. O’Donnell said that, especially when she’s among other college-educated white liberals, “I’m exhausted by the constant need to be cautious or you’ll instantly be labeled racist or anti-trans.”
And Stephen Paisley of Ithaca, New York, said he cringed to hear that libraries were described at an academic conference as “sites of violence,” which is intended to reflect biases in the way their rare book collections are curated. Rather than language that “tries to make people feel guilty,” he said, he wants the message to be “white people also suffer from living in a society in which racial injustices and inequities persist.”
Change language, change views
Many of the words that emerge in today’s linguistic debates are not new.
The “implicit bias” dates back to the work of psychologists in the 1990s, when the field began documenting the subconscious associations that cause people to harbor stereotypes. The effort to substitute “slaves” for “slaves” has long been advocated by many black scholars to emphasize the violence that defined American slavery and the humanity of those who suffer from it, said Anne Charity Hudley, a Stanford linguist.