The Language We Use

Before I get into this very deep subject, I share with you one of the blooms of my hibiscus shrub. I have it pruned into a topiary shape, and it gives us two to three blooms a day. We eat our breakfast on the front patio with the blooms in the morning in order to begin the day with its joyous brightness.

I work in education, and have done for nearly 30 years. My focus continues to be advocating for underrepresented populations in education. At one time, I worked in adult education. Then I worked in community education and research. Today, my title is director of intercultural learning. That means I teach around a variety of topics to “normalize” human difference. I offer these concepts to get them out into the world:

Language Used That Further Separates Us

Preface: It is not about “saying the right thing.” Rather we must understand the meaning (etymology) or the semantics (formal, lexical, and conceptual) in the words we use.  We tend to think that language is fluid. Meaning of words takes on different meanings in different eras. Systemic words tend to carry historical influences. When certain words become part of the lexicon, they tend to be “normalized” to the larger society, whether or not they have negative connotations.

Not an exhaustive list, I present the concepts of the following words to give us pause and to allow us to think of their historical meanings in our work to increase representative demographics in our students, faculty, staff, and administration at KSU.  After all, the intended outcome of our work focuses on erasing the barriers to acquiring college degrees and thriving in global economies who have historically excluded identities.  

We are not here to “deal with diversity and inclusion.”  We are here to build relationships with one another to support students for maximal academic and social experiences.

“Minority” – The term further minoritizes historically excluded populations.  Could we use the term, “historically excluded populations?” The word, “minority” suggests “lesser than.”  No one wants to be referred as a psychologically pejorative term, “lesser than.”  It sets a life of low self-esteem and low social expectations of those in a majority.

“Marginalized” – A dominant power minoritizes groups by setting a standard for social, financial and governing expectations from an individualistic cultural pattern vantage point.  Groups from individualistic societies tend to marginalize groups from collective societies because of different approaches to social and economic “norms.”  See Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Values Orientations.  As we know, majority powers set the cultural and behavioral norms for all the people living in such a society, with the exception of Apartheid era South Africa.  In that case, the non-majority White power worked to set a social standard for the majority demographic.

“Inclusion” – In order to  advance the concept of “inclusion,” we must understand the history of exclusion with its laws, policies, and practices that exclude one population in favor of another as an active part of societal and institutional cultures. Some of those historical and present laws include Extreme Climate Theory, Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, Indian Removal Act of 1830, Homestead Act of 1862 (You must be Christian in order to receive and own land), Japanese Relocation Act, Redlining in housing, and the 21st Century Muslim ban, etc.

When we speak of being a Land Grant Institution, think of what we say. From a historical point of view, the Land Grant Act of July 1862 promoted that it was “Education for the common man.”  Who was the “common man?”  Natives were not labeled “human” until 1873 and not allowed to be citizens until 1924. President Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation six months later, January 1, 1863. In both cases, the majority referred to men as “bucks.” Women had equally dismissive labels, such as “squaws and apes.”   

When we say, equitable representation across human identities, we do not assign a majority power.  Instead, we demonstrate an authentic desire to assure that all voices and identities contribute to institutional and cultural structures.

When we use the word, “inclusion,” it denotes a dominant or majority power or culture allowing others to participate in power, cultural, and social structures.  Perhaps we can strive for building a culture of “belonging” for our students and other.

As school psychologist, Bengu Erguner-Takinalp, says, Belonging is more than ‘tolerance,’ accepting,’ or ‘inclusion.’ Belonging means we feel connected, important, valued, part of a group, which we call, ‘our group,’ ‘our program,’ ‘our community!’”

 “Diversity” – This term tends to be synonymous with people of color and leaves out other historically marginalized groups (LGBTQ, physical and mental disability, etc.).  May we discuss simple human difference, and the thought that, “I am not different from you.  I am different like you” (Octavius Black).

In her article about educational and retail institutions, Jennifer Rittner writes, “Diversity itself is a numbers game, easily addressed through clever, conspicuous hiring practices and even more clever promotional photography. Representation means that because we may not always be physically present, but our pedagogies, industry spaces, and frameworks are activated in our interests.”  Rittner reiterates, “Inclusion is about more than just those of us who have achieved the platform for speaking out. Representation requires that we all stay vigilant and attentive to all of those not represented in our own work”.

“Culture” – Those practices, beliefs, behaviors, and ways-of-knowing of each human being.  Every human possesses cultural identities.  Culture is not something to denote ethnicity or people from another country. We develop as human beings, and that development comes from family, community, state, national, and world cultures.

“Multi-cultural” – Since the word, “culture” has come into the lexicon meaning, students of color, this term tends to feed the notion that people of color are the only people who have a culture!  Since every human has many cultural identities, we could say that everyone is multi-cultural.  Using this term, also, can exclude others with historically excluded or under-represented identities, i.e., LGBTQIA, those with different physical and learning abilities, and others with whom we do not include when we say, “multi-cultural.”

Race

Race In everyday discourse, the word race invokes phenotypical features such as skin color, eye shape, hair texture, facial features, and so on. However, scientists generally agree that race is not a concept determined by biological evidence. In other words, categorization of different races cannot be verified by biological constructs such as genetic characteristics. Arguing that any differentiation of races, if they exist at all, depends on relative, rather than absolute, constancy of genes and raising a problem of classifying the human species in racial terms, Goldberg (1993) states: Human beings possess a far larger proportion of genes in common than they do genes that are supposed to differentiate them racially. Not surprisingly, we are much more like each other than we are different. It has been estimated that, genetically speaking, the difference in difference — the percentage of our genes that determines our purportedly racial or primarily morphological difference — is 0.5 percent. (p. 67)

More recently, the Human Genome Project has shown that human beings share 99.9% of their genes, leaving only 0.1% for potential racial difference in a biological sense (Hutchinson, 2005).  

References

Allan, B. & Smylie, J. (2015). First Peoples, second class treatment: The role of racism in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Toronto, ON: the Wellesley Institute.

Ergüner-Tekinalp, B., Ilieva, V., Williams, K. (2011). Refugee Students in Public Schools: Guidelines for Developing Inclusive School Counseling Programs. Journal of Counseling Research and Practice, 28, 2.

Kubota, R. and Angel Lin. (2006). Race and TESOL: Introduction to Concepts and Theories.

TESOL Quarterly. Vol. 40, No. 3.

Martinez, E. (1998). De colores means all of us: Latina views for a multi-colored century. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Middleton, R.A., Ergüner-Tekinalp., B., Williams, N., Stadler, H., & Dow, J . (2011). Racial Identity Development and Multicultural Counseling Competencies of White Mental Health Practitioner. International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 11, 2, 201-218.

Hills, M. D. (2002). Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Values Orientation Theory. General Psychological Issues in Cultural Perspectives. 3.

Wilcox, Jill. (2016). The hijacking of the words, diversity and inclusion. ( I am not able to insert the URL here)

Millennials have a different definition of diversity and inclusion

https://www.fastcompany.com/3046358/millennials-have-a-different-definition-of-diversity-and-inclusion

Rainbows
Rainbows over my yard

4 thoughts on “The Language We Use

  1. I am imagining the midnight discussions & conversations between you & your uncle as you solve society’s problems with itself! He would be so proud of you!

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  2. Hi Debra. I just read somewhere that practicing to develop your spirituality is not an add-on to our education but, rather, a step/phase in human evolution. I feel it’s true and I’m pondering it…
    I wonder how it connects to an old half-joke. Remember when we’d say- about a person, a jerk – S/he is going to need to die and be reborn several times “before s/he’ll get it.”
    Thinking about that kind of growth as something innate (that we need to uncover) as opposed to as knowledge we acquire is what I’m pondering.
    Like you, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to “educate “ others… (what if that might not “work”)
    Your column here reminds me that so many of the concepts you mentioned – the unacceptable terms like multicultural for example- are ones we used to use — positively! to help explain, to teach perspectives. Now, we social scientists/observers have
    evolved better, more precise language.
    I hope we’re getting somewhere.
    Really though, some of the current terms are incomprehensible to me! And I’m someone who has studied these things for decades. It’s like the scene from FunnGirl where Fanny Brice is afraid of the pate then tastes it and says, Ah…a little chopped liver!”

    No real point here except thanks for inspiring my brain this morning. I don’t think you would need to de-jargon and personalize this too much (too much at all) to send it to a newspaper, a wider audience. Maybe the guardian? Giving people the gift of words.
    Back to the spiritual – even if more people read it …many of them won’t give a shit But, every little try helps.

    Susan L Allen
    https://www.k-state.edu/nonviolence/links/susan.htm

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    1. Thank you, my dear mentor! I was told by a colleague that I tend to paint a negative view, which could drive people away. She would never believe how long we’ve been at this, and just as we think we’ve moved the needle…

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