Race: Language Matters

  • Anisha Menath ’21

During discussions during classes or conversations at SHP, I have realized that there is a general lack of education of language to use when talking about important identity factors, specifically race and ethnicity. This is no one’s fault, and I am not trying to blame anyone. If students are not educated, they are unable to understand the implications of the words that they use.  If teachers do not have the resources to educate students about race, then they are unable to improve and facilitate a good and safe space for discussions about race. 

In general, having conversations about race can be challenging. Often times people do not think about how education around language regarding race can improve the productivity of conversations. Although it is meaningful and important to avoid conflict and tension for students in a classroom, race is important to talk about and ignoring it will not help solve an issue. Before students begin engaging in a conversation about race, students need to first learn the right terms to use. It is important that students are educated on politically current and updated language.

For example, to refer to a person who does not identify as white, the correct term would be Person of Color. Other terms that I have heard used are considered derogatory, such as racial slurs, or show that the person does not have the respectful words to get their point across. Additionally, when describing a person who was not born in the U.S., the correct term would be Immigrant. Although “Person of Color” and “Immigrant”  can go hand in hand, there is also a distinction between the two of them, and they are not interchangeable.

When I have heard this used interchangeably I’ve realized that it creates a feeling of confusion, especially for those who identify as either of those two identity factors. It is also important that people recognize that the terms “Person of Color” and “Immigrant” can be marginalizing and ostracizing is some cases. It can make a person feel that they stand out from the assumed norm of being white. 

I think at SHP, it is really important to address how we talk about race before we actually do talk about it. It is important to be sensitive to the fact of a predominantly white classroom discussing issues about race. When talking about race in class at SHP, it is important to be mindful that usually the class is predominantly white. This is a really important factor that can significantly impact the conversation.

Yes, it is good to have these conversations in classrooms when it is facilitated by a teacher, but it is important to be mindful of the fact that there are a lot of voices missing out on the conversation because they are not represented at SHP. Since SHP is not diverse, the classrooms are not a representation of ethnic and racial diversity of the country. This means that our conversations about race in class are incomplete and not an accurate facilitation of a “real world” discussion.

I think that in more diverse spaces, there are better chances of conversations about race and other identity factors being more productive because of the diversity of the people involved. When there is a lack of diversity, it is so much harder for people to understand the perspectives of others from different backgrounds. 

Often times, what could be stopping a productive conversation is the lack of knowledge someone has on a specific topic. For example, race relations and politics are not widely discussed in classes (although mentioned). If students had more knowledge about different identity factors, people would be more compassionate and understanding.

Although there are some classes in the English and History departments that do focus or touch on certain identity factors, language and information concerning race should be covered explicitly in classes. For example, covering it in Health and Wellness classes would be beneficial because it is mandatory for all students. 

Lastly, empathy is really important when talking about race or any other identity factor. When in a conversation, you never know what the other person is thinking or their personal connections to certain identity factors. For some people, race can be a really emotional topic that brings back a lot of memories and possibly trauma. Through empathy, people can approach a situation with kindness and it can completely alter how a certain scenario impacts a person’s well being.

Photo from MyNorthwest.com

By Axel de Vernou

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