Just finished reading “The Moral Case Against Equity Language” by George Packer, writing for The Atlantic.
What I learned:
I had not heard about equity language guides (and their proliferation) until I read George Packer’s piece. ‘Twas blind to this issue.
Though now I know I should not use the word “blind” because it is (possibly) insulting to
the visually disabled those living with visual disabilities, this according to the Sierra Club’s equity style guide.
Some of the institutions using similar such guides: The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Recreation and Park Association, the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, and the University of Washington.
Some of the words writers are advised not to use: urban, vibrant, hardworking, brown bag, you guys, empower, the poor, battle, minefield, migrant, stand, Americans, crazy.
I find this Newspeak a bit depressing. Shit! Can’t use that word either, because it may offend
the depressed persons suffering from depression.
Packer did make a number of sound arguments against the use of such guides, perhaps the most devastating was the following illustration.
First he quoted from Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers:
The One Leg’s given name was Sita. She had fair skin, usually an asset, but the runt leg had smacked down her bride price. Her Hindu parents had taken the single offer they got: poor, unattractive, hard-working, Muslim, old—“half-dead, but who else wanted her,” as her mother had once said with a frown.
Then, he “corrected” the above passage using now standard equity language requirements. The result, this unappetizing iceberg lettuce word salad:
Sita was a person living with a disability. Because she lived in a system that centered whiteness while producing inequities among racial and ethnic groups, her physical appearance conferred an unearned set of privileges and benefits, but her disability lowered her status to potential partners. Her parents, who were Hindu persons, accepted a marriage proposal from a member of a community with limited financial resources, a person whose physical appearance was defined as being different from the traits of the dominant group and resulted in his being set apart for unequal treatment, a person who was considered in the dominant discourse to be “hardworking,” a Muslim person, an older person. In referring to him, Sita’s mother used language that is considered harmful by representatives of historically marginalized communities.
Now show of hands. Who prefers the latter? Be honest.
The intent of equity language—to create a better, more equitable world—is well-meaning, okay sure. But of course we are not supposed to consider intent anymore when it comes to the expression of problematic forms of expression, only the perceived harm—the violence of the words, if you will—inflicted on those who identify as victims. In this case, the victim may be anyone and everyone who attempts to write a sentence or read one.