Friday, November 4

In My Opinion: Speaking Without Bias

Something that is very important to me is treating everyone with respect, unless they behave in a way that makes them deserve otherwise. As unoriginal as this sounds, I treat people the way I want to be treated. With this being said, one thing I am really sensitive to is biased language.

Example #1: The most common question I get asked by complete strangers is "what is your nationality?" When people ask me this, I always respond the same way, with the truth: American.
This is not the answer that people expect. They want to know a country that I am from, or, more simply, why I don't look white. They sum up that I must be "from somewhere" because non-white people aren't usually from here. Well guess what folks!? "White" people aren't originally from here either!
Okay I'm going to avoid going on a crazy rant but to summarize, I have had many guesses as to where I am from, including: Brazil, Hawaii, Mexico, India, Iran, Italy, and Egypt. I'm actually from none of these places. Allow me to introduce myself:
My name is Liz, short for Elizabeth.
My nationality is American. My parents were born in America. My parent's parents were also born in America.
My race is human.
My ethnicity is Portuguese-Cape Verdian, West African, Norwegian and English
My background is African American and European American
I am biracial

Often after explaining this to something, they will say "oh your mixed." Like "okay let me fit what you just said into my small minded view of the world." and its really hard for me not to be offended. But I know they don't mean any offense, and I try to remind myself of this when responding.

 To me, the term "mixed" sounds like a term you would use when breeding dogs. Or making chocolate milk. I wish there were more words for people of multiple ethnicities and backgrounds, but there just aren't enough terms that are socially acceptable. So with a lack of another appropriate term, I prefer "biracial" or "multiracial."

me (on the right) and my cousins
Maybe its because I was raised in a very liberal town with two parents who lived through a "mixed marriage" in the 60's, but I am very sensitive to labels. We are all human beings, we are all people. We all deserve to be recognized as people before we are labeled as anything else. Therefore, when someone uses bias in their language, it really bothers me.

Example #2: I know some people who call themselves radical thinkers, but who still refer to people by their differences first, even when it is irrelevant. They frequently use terms like "my tranny friend" or "that black guy" instead of just "my friend" or "that guy" or even better, using their preferred names! Differences shouldn't be mentioned unless they are relevant. That is not to say that they should be ignored. But, lets assume you are Caucasian, and most of your friends are Caucasian. Do you refer to each of your friends by "my Caucasian friend Betty..." or "my white friend Sarah"? I'm pretty sure you don't. So why do people choose to use labels when someone is different?

When it comes to identifying someone, I get it, it is easier to say "do you remember my friend Joe, he's African American?" when the majority of your friends aren't African American, it might make it easier to explain who Joe is. But lets say you want to tell your friend about the time when Joe accidentally knocked down the baked bean display in the grocery store. Would you start your sentence with "My black friend Joe was pushing his cart..." I find this unnecessary and, if done gratuitously, offensive.

Reducing bias in language: Differences should be mentioned only when they are relevant. Factors such as marital status, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic identity, or the fact that a person has a disability should not be mentioned gratuitously.
Be sensitive to labels. Call people what they prefer to be called. For example; Native Americans may prefer to be called by their name in their native language, rather than the English word. Be aware that these preferences change over time.
When referring to someone with a difference or disability, use person-first language. Rather than saying "he is autistic" you would say "he is a person with autism" or "he has autism." Autism is not what he is, but one characteristic of him. He is a person, first and foremost.

Thank you for reading my rather long post! I hope you gained some insight and inspiration from my thoughts! I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

1 comment:

kristina noelle said...

I always find it offensive whenever people describe someone "saying oh! she's the Asian girl..." or something like "do you remember Maria, the black girl blah blah blah..." It always make me sad that we are living in a society that people make you feel that you don't belong... We always classify people, as if we are crayons. I still pray that the time will come when people will learn and apply the word "equality and respect."

Thank you for your awesome post! I wish there are more awesome people like you. :)