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OPINION: It takes more than word policing to fight prejudice

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

(Jadyn Lee • The Student Life)

During move-in at Pitzer College, first-years watched a video of Resident Assistants describing COVID-19 expectations and resources. A significant part of that video discussed appropriate language and suggested students not use “offensive” expressions like “crazy” and “you guys.”

Unfortunately, Pitzer seemingly succumbed to the slacktivist advocacy that much of social media has become famous for.

Popular Instagram posts rally against “ableist” words like “dumb” or “stupid.” Twitter threads denounce the usage of “you guys” because of “non-inclusive” undertones. There are problematic slurs, epithets and microaggressions that should be actively campaigned against. However, focusing all our energies on “word policing,” or ousting certain words and phrases that are deemed offensive from our vernacular, detracts from rather than adds to efforts to fight discrimination.

Ultimately, the distinction between words that do have a place in our lexicon versus words that don’t rests on intent and result. When “crazy” is used as an insult, it is obviously offensive against the mentally ill. However, “crazy” has multiple meanings: It has been used to mean “cool or exciting” since the 1920s, and most people, including people struggling with mental health issues, use the term in a non-problematic or joking manner.

The same logic applies to the phrase “you guys.” Women started using it as a gender-neutral plural alternative to “you” in the mid-20th century, with the gender-neutral definition now included in dictionaries. Of course, don’t use “you guys” when speaking with someone who expresses that they are genuinely uncomfortable being referred to by that term. However, proactive censorship — either self-administered or enforced against others — has real consequences.


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