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The Carletonian

Words are not Wishy-Washy

<nger is overrated. My original intention for this article was to insult Macalester College’s recent list of “offensive” words. I was going to go through each word that they deemed offensive and decide whether it was offensive or not. I was going to tell Macalester to get over themselves and stop being so politically correct. However, when I was talking to my mom about this article idea, she cautioned me against this approach. She told me that negativity isn’t the answer when it comes to providing social commentary. True social commentary is obvious without insulting the choices of others. This is especially true when people are just trying their best to construct social change. Sure, I don’t have to agree with Macalester’s approach, but I have to believe they compiled this list as an attempt to be good people. I have to believe that progress isn’t a competition or a game between out of touch hipsters. If I don’t, then I could see myself shutting out progress due to my inability to believe in others.

Macalester’s “More Than Words Campaign” is about acknowledging that certain people are offended and affected by certain words. This doesn’t mean that everyone is offended by all of these words, but I don’t think I have the right to say which words are silly to be offended by. Yes, there were a few words on the list that I don’t think should be included, but who am I to judge? Sure, I have experienced some hardships in life and some of the offensive words on the list apply to me, but many did not. For most of the words, I really only understand what they mean, not how they make people feel.

Even though they do not affect me, some of these words really struck me. One example of a word that I find more offensive the more I think about it is the word “gypped.” Sure, this word may no longer directly conjure up stereotypical images of stealing gypsies, but this word represents our intolerant past. By categorizing this word as offensive, it creates a discussion on how our country’s prejudiced past affects our present social climate.

Projects like the “More Than Words Campaign” may focus on words, but words address more than surface level discrimination. They allow us to discuss the complex topic of discrimination by starting at the surface. I know this approach may seem counterproductive, but people don’t like digging deep right away. I am optimistic that by acknowledging the way certain words are used as weapons against people, we can fight these weapons with powerful discussion. At the same time, it’s silly to be offended by another person being offended. A group of people being offended by a word that you may have used in the past doesn’t make you a bad person. Instead of deciding how guilty we feel for using these words, we need to acknowledge the right to be offended. What creates even more conflict is questioning how people move past the scars of conflict, which seems incredibly counterproductive to me.

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