Words shape how we see the world. There is a language of sex and gender that helps cement the dominant paradigm into U.S. society. That is why, in the 70s when I was a teen and young adult, there was a push to change the lexicon with gender-neutral labels for people in jobs (letter-carrier instead of postman; flight-attendant rather than stewardess). This is still evolving and has moved into resisting the accepted gender binary language in favor of understanding gender as a continuum with the inclusion of gender-neutral pronouns to represent and also instigate that understanding.
This is not an academic problem. The consequences in the real world are deadly. They include (but are certainly not limited to) racial-profiling, stereotyping, the wrong person being accused and/or convicted of a crime and murder.
|This is black.|
The solution is not to "not see race" but to see what is in front of us. See the actual details of skin tone and texture; hair texture, color and length; height; body build; perceived age. When people want to know the race of a suspect, how often are they really asking "is the person from our team, or 'their' team?" In the human family, who do we make "them?"
I know it's much more complicated than that. We are not starting from today. The duality was carefully constructed by an oppressor class that has inflicted centuries of harm and created systems and institutions that continue to do so today. Also, the "race" based caste system includes other "others" and a host of intersections that confer more or less access, more or less pain. Having been defined as "white" in a centuries-old caste system, it feels cowardly to refuse that label, as if I'm refusing accountability for a system that I benefit from at the expense of people with other labels.
At the same time, accepting the label "white" makes me feel complicit in an imposed language of racial caste that is not based in the ultimate truth of who we all are as humans. And it divides me from my own rich and complex heritage, and from an accurate description of my physical self. A paradox indeed.
|This is white.|
Sometimes changing the language we use is an attempt to avoid a truth. Sometimes, changing the language we use, changes how we see the world enough for us to take action to make change.