ICYMI – Denley: Shifting gender pronouns, racial terminology aren’t doing much to unite Canadians

Interesting results from the ACS poll, suggesting that academic and bureaucratic terminology may not be resonating with people (not a surprise).
Personally, find terminology debates and discussions far less interesting than looking at what disaggregated data (categories) can tell us regarding socioeconomic outcomes of particular groups, recognizing variation within groups as well as between them.
The particular not necessity be at the expense of the commonality, but it is important to have both. Not for “defining” people but understanding them: 
Anyone who follows traditional or social media can be forgiven for thinking that Canadians are divided as never before. Perhaps the better term is “categorized.” There is enormous enthusiasm in government and academe to define people by race, gender and sexual preference.
It has become the norm in the media to refer to people as “racialized” and bend over backwards to make sure that everyone’s personal pronouns are respected. The latter leads to the grammatically puzzling situation where an individual whose name we know is referred to as “them.”

Source: Denley: Shifting gender pronouns, racial terminology aren’t doing much to unite Canadians

McWhorter: Every Day, We’re Told to Use New Lingo. What Does That Really Accomplish?

Indeed. Changing terminology and labels is often an easy way out of confronting the harder substantive issues and disparities. Fairly or not, I tend to discount those who focus more on terminology than substance:

The left these days gets a bad rap for policing language. It can be irritating to feel like you have to watch how you say things or keep up with the latest lingo when the old lingo still seems perfectly fine. This is especially the case with counterintuitive ideas such as referring not to “pregnant women” but to “people who are pregnant” — a phrase now used on Planned Parenthood’s website — or the even less intuitive “birthing people,” which we’re asked to embrace as inclusive, and therefore progressive, despite that both reduce women to being biological vessels.

I’m certainly not arguing for intolerance toward those who can become pregnant but don’t identify as women. I’m saying that even if we’re not being forced to use the new terms, the way they’re introduced, almost as if by fiat, can make it seem as if sticking with the old ones is a kind of thought crime. But it isn’t that those on the left have some weird, childish yen for control. Rather, they seem to be operating under an attractive but shaky idea that language channels thought: Change how people say things and you change how they think about things and then the world changes.

That’s not how it works, though. Good intentions frequently don’t translate into efficacy. So, the question is, how much does changing terminology really accomplish?

In the late 1980s, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the term “African American” had more “cultural integrity,” and “Black” was, therefore, out of date. But I’d be hard-pressed to say that the Black community today has a greater measure of cultural integrity or is any prouder than it was then. And though a recent poll showed that a majority of Black Americans see being Black as central to their identity, the younger they are, the less central it is — suggesting less significance, as time goes on, about what we call ourselves.

I think also of Nina Simone’s musicalization of Lorraine Hansberry’s phrase “To be young, gifted and Black.” Watch Simone perform this song in Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary, “Summer of Soul,” with her vocal emphasis, full of conviction, on the word “Black.” Singing “African American” wouldn’t — couldn’t — ring with the same richness. Black America added meaning to and wrested pride out of a word that was supposed to have negative connotations by thinking of ourselves as beautiful and determined. I’m not sure “African American,” just as a term, has furthered that at all: “To be young, gifted and African American”?

Remember, too, the “euphemism treadmill” described by the Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker, who explained in a 1994 Times Opinion essay: “People invent new ‘polite’ words to refer to emotionally laden or distasteful things, but the euphemism becomes tainted by association and the new one that must be found acquires its own negative connotations.” For example, the pathway from “crippled” to “handicapped” to “disabled” to “differently abled.” New words ultimately don’t leave freighted ideas behind; they merely take them on.

Consider the phrase “urban renewal.” Starting in the 1930s, there were initiatives in American cities to raze working-class, often Black neighborhoods. They would eventually be replaced with various civic projects, such as new highway construction. One term for this, embraced by city planning éminences grises such as Robert Moses in New York City, was “slum clearance.”

As the years passed, the downsides of this destruction of modest but cohesive communities became more apparent, and the term “slum clearance” was gradually supplanted by the term “urban renewal,” starting in the 1950s. But calling it urban renewal didn’t persuade a range of writers, thinkers and displaced residents to celebrate this destructive dislocation. Other than by, perhaps, some city planners, urban renewal was increasingly perceived as a glum business — the same business — as slum clearance. James Baldwin memorably coined it with the more reality-based term, “Negro removal.”

Even when factoring in Pinker’s treadmill, I understand the impulse to refer to “enslaved people” rather than “slaves” — not all new terminology is pointless. Describing someone as a “slave” can be taken as indicating that servitude is an inherent trait rather than an imposed condition. But I suspect that after a while, the term “enslaved person” will continue its lexical drift and we’ll need a new term. Why? Because of what happened to “homeless person,” which began as an enlightened replacement for terms such as “bum” and “bag lady,” but is now itself being slowly replaced by referring to someone who is “unhoused.”

It is, then, reasonable to surmise that terms such as “pregnant people,” while pleasing a certain contingent, will not deter most people from continuing to perceive the world according to an old-fashioned gender binary. Basic perception will remain that most pregnant people are cisgender women, such that it will still feel natural to think of being pregnant as something women experience, and it will feel forced to use gender-neutral language, even as we acknowledge that there are people who identify as men or nonbinary who can become pregnant.

As I’ve discussed before in this newsletter, research has shown that language can influence thought, but sometimes only slightly. And what pops up in a psychological experiment may not track with real-life behavior: The Implicit Association Test, more than two decades old, has often been used to demonstrate how implicit bias is supposed to work — how negative associations with terms such as “Black” may correlate with people exhibiting prejudice or bigotry. But a more recent analysis argues that there is no evidence that quietly associating negative terms with Black people rather than white people in such tests correlates with racist behavior.

Today’s predilection for newspeak neglects all of this. Frankly, I think it is partly because generating new labels offers instant gratification, especially with the internet handy. It’s easier to introduce new terms than to change the way different groups referred to by those terms are really perceived. In that way, never-ending calls to change the way people talk and write is less an advance than a cop-out.

Terminology will, of course, evolve over time for various reasons. But broadly speaking, thought leaders and activists of past eras put their emphasis on what people did and said — not on ever-finer gradations of how they might have said it.

Far better to teach people what you think they should think about something, and why, instead of classifying the way they express themselves about it as a form of disrespect or backwardness. After a while, if you teach well, they won’t be saying what you don’t want them to say. Mind you, you may not be around to see the fruits of the endeavor — a frustrating aspect of change is that it tends to happen slowly. But “Change words!” is no watchcry for a serious progressivism.

Source: Every Day, We’re Told to Use New Lingo. What Does That Really Accomplish?

BIPOC or IBPOC? LGBTQ or LGBTQ2S+? Who decides which terms we should use?

Good discussion on names or labels, along with practical advice on their use.

I still stick with visible minorities as it is the term used by the employment equity act and thus Statistics Canada and other government data sources. I have largely shifted to using Indigenous peoples instead of Aboriginal peoples given that the government has taken some symbolic steps in that direction (eg., department names) without formally changing the language of the EE act.

And personally, while I understand that names and labels are important, I am more interested in what the data shows in terms of differences and similarities between and among groups than discussing terminology.

And sometimes new usage can be silly, e.g., pregnant people rather than pregnant women:

It does not take a degree to notice that the names for groups of people sharing a common skin colour, ethnicity, gender identity, disability or racial background change frequently — and how the grammar of these names also change. 

In many cases it is no longer acceptable to use a plain unadorned noun to identify someone from a marginalized group (this person is a(n) X). Nouns become adjectives (a disabled/homeless person) and those adjectives are then further embedded in modifying phrases (a person with disabilities/experiencing homelessness). 

Longer strings of adjectives are gathered into acronyms, which can be pronounced as one word (BIPOC), or initialisms, which cannot (LGBTQ+). The issue of which letters should be included along with the order in which they should appear may be debated (BIPOC vs. IBPOCLGBTQ+ vs. LGBTQIA vs. LGBTQ2S+).

Capitalization may vary (black vs. Blackwhite vs. Whitedeaf vs. Deaf). Some of these new terms open up grammatical questions: should I ask my non-binary friend to introduce themselves or themself?

If you are the type of person who finds this baffling or intolerable, you probably hold the mistaken belief that names stay fixed over time, or at least that they should.

If, on the other hand, you are sincerely concerned with using the appropriate terms, you may wonder how to determine what is correct. Who is the person or committee invested with the power to decide which terms are the right ones and which should be put to rest? Who is the arbiter of contentious language? The answer, in the case of terms that refer to people, is the people to whom those terms refer

Use the description the person has chosen

On an individual level, it is common courtesy to ask someone what their name is with the intention of using that name for them. We do not meet a new person and decide what their name should be. If we have only seen their name written down we may also check the pronunciation, although we may discover that we are unable to reproduce it. And if we forget someone’s name or mispronounce it, most of us instinctively apologize. When people change their names, as women who marry sometimes still do, we endeavour to call them by their new name. 

This courtesy extends to the way we describe people. Taking nationality as an example, someone may have parents from one country (Iran), have been born in another (Great Britain) and have lived most of their life in a third (Canada). Whether that person thinks of themself as Iranian, British, Canadian or some hyphenated blend of the three is as much a personal choice as it is legally defined. Politeness dictates that we use the description the person in question has chosen.

Names and descriptions of groups of people are necessarily more complicated because groups can be smaller or bigger in size. Canadians can include Iranian-Canadians while Indigenous communities can include Anishinaabeg and Cree peoples. Asians are members of the BIPOC community and lesbians are members of the LGBTQ+ community. And all of these people can be members of multiple communities.

It is incumbent on us to use the level of granularity that fits the context and when unsure, ask the people we are introducing or speaking about how they want to be identified. Where group membership is contested (for example, should women include people who do not menstruate? Should people who menstruate be called women?) opting for a superordinate term (adults, humans, people) is one way for non-members to avoid taking a side.

Describing groups can be even more difficult

Descriptions of groups of people can also be complicated by the fact that group members rarely all hold the same opinion regarding what they should be called. 

Unanimity on virtually any issue is almost impossible to achieve. What do we call people who cannot agree on what to be called? If we are guided by politeness, we can check with a group member who we perceive to have influence or follow what seems to be the dominant usage of the moment. And courtesy goes both ways. If we use an outdated or disliked term in good faith, we are entitled to polite, not hostile, correction.

Politeness and courtesy are best practices when we use language as individuals. But some of us also speak or write as members of organizations. For example, teachers, professors, journalists, editors, politicians and policy writers all represent institutions that set standards for language use. 

While the use of an older-term-now-replaced can be excused at an individual level, it is unacceptable at the institutional level where power resides. Institutions do well to choose language carefully, to be prepared to change often and to be fully open about how decisions around language have been made. Language acknowledgement statements, to the effect that the language chosen may not be used by all communities and individuals, can highlight, in a positive way, that choices are never perfect and that they are contingent on time and place.

People are not organized into neat categories and the names of categories are never static. Language is fluid and always moving.

The sound of language change is the sound of people using language differently until the majority settles on one usage. The voices of people debating and arguing about which terms that apply to them are pejorative, inadequate, or inappropriate demonstrates the ways in which language choice matters deeply. It is a beautiful chorus and the best practice is to listen closely.

Source: https://theconversation.com/bipoc-or-ibpoc-lgbtq-or-lgbtq2s-who-decides-which-terms-we-should-use-159188?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20May%2026%202021&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20May%2026%202021+CID_21254e324be5b15705d6cb7002b1e42c&utm_source=campaign_monitor_ca&utm_term=BIPOC%20or%20IBPOC%20LGBTQ%20or%20LGBTQ2S%20Who%20decides%20which%20terms%20we%20should%20use

Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

Given Canadian debates over how to “label” different forms of extremism, interesting take on Australia’s shift towards more neutral but yet clear terminology:

Last week Australia’s spy boss sent ripples through the national security community with the announcement that Asio will shift from using “rightwing extremism” and “Islamic extremism” to using “ideological extremism” and “religious extremism”. In his second annual threat assessment, director general Mike Burgess told a Canberra audience that “words matter”, and the old words were no longer fit for purpose.

Words do matter. Burgess’ words in his first public address in 2020 which took aim at the extreme right wing, were lightning bolts in Australia’s post-Christchurch discourse. The organisation’s disclosure that 30-40% of its caseload was associated with these issues gave invaluable context to a public debate that was severely lacking.

While the quick pivot away from these terms took many by surprise, it has not happened in a vacuum. The change is similar to one undertaken by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2020. Far from signalling the diminishing resolve of the country, Canada took the bold step of listing the Proud Boys on its terror register in February. Likewise, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an unclassified memo dated 1 March 2021 which contained similar rhetorical shifts throughout. The memo, which warns more “racially motivated extremist attacks” will “almost certainly” take place in 2021, was in the process of being released to the public when a gunman shot and killed eight Asian Americans in Atlanta.

Following this year’s address, Burgess told Guardian Australia that political pressure did not factor in the organisation’s decision process. But as the director general acknowledges, the organisation doesn’t control or seek to control the way Australia’s leaders in politics and the media discuss these issues and this is where rhetoric plays its most important role.

Source: Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

When a Phrase Takes On New Meaning: ‘Radical Islam,’ Explained – The New York Times

More on language and terminology, another good piece:

When I asked Mr. Hamid [a scholar at the Brookings Institution] this, he countered with a different question. Given how many labels already exist to describe terrorists that draw on Islam, why insist on this one?

He listed several — “radical jihadists, Salafis, Islamist extremists, jihadis, jihadi-Salafists” — none of which, he said, carry the baggage of “radical Islam.”

But if it’s that baggage that repels scholars, it may also be what draws others. “Radical Islam” has come to imply certain things about issues that are closer to home than abstract terrorist ideology: political correctness, migration, and the question of who belongs.

Those same issues have animated debates over terrorism and terminology in other societies. In Germany, “multiculturalism” has become shorthand for larger questions of how to absorb migrants and whether there is a degree of minimum assimilation. There is endless sparring over “British values,” and what sort of burden this puts on migrants before they will be welcomed into society.

France has had its own parsing of “radical Islam,” though the fight over “secularism” is even fiercer.

Even majority Muslim societies have had versions of this same argument, Mr. Hamid pointed out. In Egypt, he said, the struggle over terms is, in part, a way of litigating whether parties like the Muslim Brotherhood are ideologically akin to terror groups — and therefore whether they should be allowed to participate in society.

What these debates have in common is that arguing about how to define terrorism becomes a way to push and pull the contours of national identity, determining who is invited in to that identity and who is kept out.

In every case, the debate is framed as one of pluralism versus security. Pinning terrorism on “multiculturalism” or non-secularism or foreign values or “radical Islam” all portray inclusiveness as somehow threatening and exclusiveness as safer.

The question of whether pluralism and security are indeed in tension, or whether pluralism in fact enhances security, is one that people around the world have long grappled with. But it’s hard to discuss because it is so core to national identity. Debating semantics is much easier.

Source: When a Phrase Takes On New Meaning: ‘Radical Islam,’ Explained – The New York Times