Saturday 21 July 2018

Does the language we use include or exclude?

Anyone who follows me on my social media (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn & Twitter) will probably have noticed that I am a reader of Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT)'s blog and sometimes repost or refer to their articles. The perspectives are those of four UK churches who work together ecumenically: the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. During my lifetime I have regularly attended churches of all bar the Scottish member. I was a sunday-school teacher for two of them. Nowadays I feel attached to the Society of Friends, the Quakers. The commonality is our pursuit of social justice.

I subscribe to JPIT's email newsletter and today received:
The author writes that she and the other quarter of a million or so demonstrators are angry:

"Trump represents a toxic cocktail of misogyny, racism, xenophobia and lies."

But note what's missing from this statement: inter alia homophobia, classism and disablism (ableism). There is no attempt to be all-inclusive. The statement by including only certain examples with no caveat, excludes other areas of hostility and discrimination. One way the sentence could be rewritten to be more inclusivist is as follows:

Trump represents a toxic cocktail of hate and lies. Amongst other things, he is a misogynist, racist and xenophobe.

The blog-post continues with a laudable assertion:

"We believe that everyone is made in the image of God and is entitled to dignity and respect and therefore, that discrimination is an assault on the image of God."
By using the term "everyone", this is an all-inclusive statement. However it is then immediately qualified by the very next sentence.
"We believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of God regardless of race, gender or nationality and all are welcome to be part of the body of Christ."

The "everyone" in this sentence has been limited. Again note what's missing: inter alia, sexuality, creed, class, age and disability.

The United Nations (UN), in article two of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states:

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
The UN by using the phrases "without distinction of any kind", "such as" and "or other status" ensures that all are included and none are excluded from its definition of "Everyone".

Not only does what we say convey meaning, but what we do not say also is open to interpretation, to inference. If we use exclusivist language, then some will feel or believe themselves to be excluded. Others will take our views as exclusivist of certain groupings.

If one uses the search-box on the JPIT's site, one will find no results for "homophobia", "homosexuality", "homosexual" nor "sexual orientation". There is only one mention of "gay" in a fleeting reference to the mass-murders in Orlando in 2016. By contrast the terms "disabled" and "disability" (but not "disablism") connect to several articles. JPIT raises many important questions and encourages its readers to take action. Are the folk behind the site and its contributors deliberately excluding some groups? I hope not. I suspect that the likelihood is that the matter of being inclusive just had not occurred.

None of us, including myself, are perfect: we all exclude others, either wittingly or unwittingly. Nonetheless, I encourage us all to try to be more inclusivist in the language we use.

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