social justice buzzwords can be annoying, but they reflect the urgent reality of marginalized experiences

May 31, 2017

I get it. The crowd that loves to show off their social justice chops and lecture people on what’s right and wrong always has some fancy new lingo we’re all supposed to fall in line with every other day, and it’s exhausting. When it comes to gender and sexuality especially, there seems to be an unlimited amount of experiences to describe, and a million letters after the LGBTQ. (Remember when there wasn’t even the “Q”?! The good ol’ days… Wait, actually it wasn’t so good. At all.)

As annoying as this phenomenon can be, the truth of the matter is that our language has to progress for society to do the same. For example, those letters after the Q–Q2GQIAASCP(GSM)–don’t even come close to describing the experiences of communities marginalized because of their gender and sexuality.

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

Before colonization, Native American communities had terms for at least five genders. Science recognizes at least 17 sex variations outside of male and female, without even complicating gender as being non-biologically determined. We still know very little about all of the ways people experience the world, and that is exactly by design.

“They” don’t want us to talk seriously about ideas like intersectionality, queerantagonism, or gender-nonconformity, because these concepts begin to touch upon the complicated and interlocking nature of oppression that they want to keep in place. To be able to name these experiences is the beginning of knowing how to combat them. Our expanding language is proof that many are also trying to expand their minds to imagine freer futures.

On the flip-side, it’s true that some of us (myself included) obsess over language without really engaging with what these terms mean, and that isn’t helping anyone either. We learn in social justice spaces that part of the struggle in dealing with oppression is that we don’t always have the language to describe what we’re experiencing, but what good is having this language if those who experience what’s being described the most can’t engage, too? I have often been so caught up with getting my language right that I didn’t bother to get my actions right as well.

But we can do both. We can recognize that language isn’t the end-all-be-all, but still a tool that might take us some of the way. We can stop pointing fingers as if a lack of the full scope of this language is a moral failing, when this language was never designed by moral people in the first place. At the same time, we should leave room for others to bend a language that has always been fastened around their necks. And perhaps one day it will bend so much that it helps break open a door to future where language isn’t used to oppress anyone.

Banner photo via Shavings From My Head

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.