2020 is the year of the cancel culture. For better or worse, everything is under microscopic review. America is re-evaluating its his history, police, politics, and films, as well as its brands, actions. and even its words.
We know statues products law enforcement, sports team name, flags, and many iconic images cite being questioned, debated, and changed. All this stems from Black Lives Matter movement and the nation's awakening to fighting racism.
Many might cheer for one move -- banning the use of the chokehold by police, or the removing of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events, but we also question if we have gone too far in calling for the Jefferson Memorial to be to be closed. That's all political and cultural, and those discussions will come for weeks and years to come. We can celebrate the name change of the Washington Redskins, and explore how companies can improve directly in the workplace, but do we also have to change the very words that we use?
PRDaily.com recently reported on a story that identifies five racially offensive phrases that it says PR pros should delete from their vocabulary. Does this border on some Orwellian approach to control a thought by changing our language, or is it a well-intentioned attempt to make us look deeply and thoughtfully about what we say and how it is heard? As George Orwell noted in his writings, language manipulation causes the downfall of great societies.
My gut instinct opposes attempts by the PC police to mess with our language. It will get to the point that we speak in code and no one will really know what we're saying.
Though language evolves over the years, no word should be off limits, should it? Intention, more than the word used,, is most important to judge whether one intends to be mean and ill-willed. The words themselves are nothing without context.
No word, by itself, means exactly what you may think it means. For example, take the word love. You can say "I love you" or you can say "I love to hate you." Two different thoughts, same word.
I can say "good job" in my daughter for acing her test. Or I can say good job to my fellow gang member for punching out a cop who almost arrested us. Same word, different meanings. Context is everything.
If I call someone the N word, out of anger, that's different than two black people joking with each other while throwing the same word around.
Now, it is true that when we promote a book to the news media, we must act responsibly, professionally, ethically, and wisely. We cannot just curse or spew racial epithets in our communications, unless for some reason they are relevant and stated in a certain context. Even then, we must be very, very cautious.
But what are we bordering on bending over too much to be culturally sensitive? For instance, the article in PRDaily said not use "urban" or "inner-city." Why? Some say urban because they mean just that -- those who live in cities, as opposed to the suburbs. PR daily says it is code for racially stereotyping Black community. Urban is used by all people, similar to the way that awards like the Grammys have an "urban" category. So what should we say instead? It says use the term "metropolitan population" for city dwellers. If referring to the low income economic class, say low-income or the "high-need," although the latter sounds like people with disabilities or learning disorders. In our bid to move away from words that may have mixed connotations we further obfuscate our language and confuse each other over what we're actually saying.
I recall a movement a generation ago to get rid of terms like Indian giver or gypped, words that were rooted in racism or hatred of a group of people. Many people using these terms may never have thought of the words' origins and just used them to mean they got cheated. But over time, these words are rarely used. Society is not worse off for it, though one should not be excoriated using them if they are in the right contact. Then there are terms that almost no one knew were linked to racism. PR Daily said no can do is not to be used now. People just use it as term to reflect that they can't do something, right? But apparently this term stems from Chinese immigrants in the 1800 who said no can do when they meant I can't do that. So, if we use it now, it is apparently perceived as a slight to the Chinese.
The article also noted "tipping point," "dreadlocks," and "grandfathered-in' are no-nos as well, again because of negative old attachments to them. It gets tricky when you look at any word's origins. So many words reflect their time's negativity. Will we eventually not even be able to use the words kill, Beat, hit, or conquer because they have to do with violence, war, and crime? We use them everyday in sports for instance, the Mets killed the Yankees 9-1. We use them in business. For example, company profits beat the expectations of Wall Street. We use them in our entertainment. For example, Beyonce has a hit song rise to the top of the charts.
There is no easy answer here, other than we should not purposely look to offend people while understanding words alone, depending on context and intention, are not being used offensively. If we really took apart our language we will lose more than a few words. We will endanger our ability to communicate and still fail to remove real thoughts or seeds that are racist and harmful.
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Brian Feinblum, the founder of BookMarketingBuzzBlog, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are the product of his genius. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2020. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo.