Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Non-white" is an insulting term

I know white people will find this hard to digest -- I did too, long ago. It is downright offensive to call minorities "non-whites". I love Ed Brayton, but on his blog today he said this:
And wouldn’t you know it, it’s all the fault of non-white people, who aren’t Real American because they voted for Obama.
My decades of human rights work taught me that comparative phrasing is a great way to illustrate this and similar problems. For instance, how would women feel if an article referred to them only as "non-men"? See how that works? They're not "non-men"; they're women.

If you're going to talk about a group of people, refer to them by their name rather than by stressing their non-inclusion in another group.

As long as I'm doing a language-police post, here are a few more. Don't say someone is "confined" to a wheelchair. Say they "use a wheelchair". It's literally cruel to use the "confined" terminology. It says more about your view of the person than it does about the person's actual condition.

In this vein, there's a lot to be said about diseases. For instance, don't refer to people as "diabetics". Say the person "has diabetes". A person is more than his or her disease or condition. PWAs (people with AIDS) walked along this road decades ago, and hopefully paved the way to a broader understanding of the cruelty of certain expressions. When PWAs were referred to as "AIDS patients", they rightly (and loudly) objected. These sorts of phrases limit a person's identity, and even obliterate it. We are not just our diseases. We're people.

As with all my posts in this vein, I expect fight-back in the comments. My post about "the jig is up" still gets lots of visitors, more than almost any other post. People want to fight the understanding I stressed. Sorry, kids. "The jig is up" is an offensive phrase, and just because you don't understand this, doesn't mean you can use it. You hurt people when you do. My position is simple. Don't harm people with your words.