Yes, words matter.

Gretchen at Drifting Through has an awesome post today, This Discrimination is Still OK, which I encourage you to read. She discusses the shaming of poor people and what it means to live in deep poverty, with an emphasis on how it affects children. She begins by introducing shaming, then talks about some egregious things a couple of politicians have said about poor people and a response to one of them in Salon. Then we get this:

The things people say when discussing the poor. They harken to Dickensian times. “Lazy. Victims. Takers.” These words are used to dehumanize an entire group of people. These words offer justification and comfort to those who wish to keep the poor exactly where they are. Poor people are fundamentally flawed, in character and morals. They don’t want to have better or to do better. They want a hand out or a hand up or a free ride. They enjoy this lifestyle. If they were motivated and ambitious and resourceful they wouldn’t be in this position. These are the statements that are repeated. They are hollow excuses for disdain. They are the rationalization for judgment. They are the lame attempts to lift oneself higher while stepping callously on the backs of those already crippled with exhaustion. They are the words of bullies.

In my opinion, that absolutely nails a big part of the problem. In a single paragraph we clearly see how derogatory labeling enables dehumanization and sets the stage for bullying. I’ve said this in other places, but never so succinctly. Language matters and here’s why. Language shapes our thoughts, and our thoughts inform our behavior. The next paragraph goes a step further and talks about the importance of empathy.

You know I don’t ask for shares outright, but I’ll say this. Gretchen’s post is one I’d really like to see passed around. 😉

This post really got me thinking, for two reasons:

  • Poverty is one of three social issues I identified months ago as both pressing enough to justify political commentary on a pop culture blog and something I have enough knowledge of to write about. It’s the only one of the three I haven’t gotten around to covering yet.
  • Gretchen’s post makes me think of our Feminist Friday discussions. Aside from a couple of obvious things like her use of shaming to talk about this, and that she’s talking about children while I’m racking my brain on early childhood education, I’m not sure why I feel the two issues are so strongly connected. I’m just working on intuition at this point, but I’ll figure it out.

And speaking of  Feminist Friday, I’ve been torn all week about whether to write the next education post or whether to talk about Feminism as a label again. There are advantages to either. Several people have said re-visiting the label is a good idea, because quite a few people have joined the discussion lately, and it keeps coming up. So I think I’ll do that this week.

Our very first discussion post, Is Feminism Still a Politically Useful Label? was published almost three months ago and we haven’t talked much about the label since. My goal for Friday is to build on that post rather than simply reiterate it in different language. Do stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “Yes, words matter.

  1. Thank you so much for linking to me and being so generous with your words. And you said that I said something succinctly! I think that’s a first for me! 🙂

    I think re-addressing the label of Feminism is something we need to revisit whether it’s this week or in the following weeks. It will be good to bring it full circle and to address it again now that we have more people joining the discussion!

    Again, thank you for this.


    • You’re welcome, and I decided to go with the label this week. This stuff needs to percolate for a bit longer. The similarities in the language you’re using to talk about poverty and the language we use to talk about discrimination against women is striking, though.

      I only wish I’d been able to give it more time at the top of the page. Threw it together in a hurry because our views really fall off on Thursdays. I wanted it to go when the feed traffic was good, and didn’t want to hold it until Tuesday.


  2. This reminds me of the discussion about the idea of humanity “maturing” in our last Feminist Friday discussion. If we’re going for “mature,” then the people who aren’t “keeping up” with that can, of course, be shamed.

    Which is not okay.


    • hmmm. Hadn’t thought of it from that angle, exactly, but it fits right in with my very careful and polite objection to using maturity as a concept to talk about inequality.

      We need to have an entire post and discussion focus on shaming at some point.


  3. One reason libraries are still so important, and always will be, is that the provide services to the poor that they can’t always get anywhere else. We provide programs starting at birth and continuing on through adulthood. Storytimes, school age programs, teen programs, all either provide some educational component or a safe place for kids to socialize with their peers and have fun. They can get books, homework help during the school year, and most importantly, Internet and computer access. We have the same people come in every day to use our computers for some reason or another. The poor, especially poor children, are under served in most areas and we have to do what we can to make sure they have a chance at succeeding.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: This Discrimination Is Still OK | DBCII

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