IEC blog

            Just Words?

How biased language can lead to more serious issues?

Remember the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”? While that may be the case for some, using biased language can cause lasting physical and emotional damage. One of the issues with biased language is that it is often accepted as a normal part of a person’s vocabulary. How many times have you heard someone use the “r word” to describe something or someone as unintelligent? What may seem like harmless comment can actually escalate to more serious actions such as social avoidance or bullying. This diagram shows just how far these actions can go.

                One way that we can all contribute to ending the use of slurs and other bigoted language as the norm is by challenging it. It may seem daunting to confront a friend whom is using offensive language, so here a few tips from the Anti-Defamation League to help end the use of biased language and educate others:

Clarify for yourself what you want to get out of the interaction. If your primary goal is to express your anger and indignation toward the offender, it is unlikely that the interaction will be personally satisfying. Your anger may generate equally-offensive remarks or you may succeed in publicly embarrassing the person, but these responses are ineffective in changing the person’s behavior in the future.

Assume good will. Many people who make offensive remarks do so out of ignorance. Because they do not intend harm, they often assume no harm is done.

Talk to the person privately. By speaking to the offender one-on-one, you remove the person’s need to “save face” publicly or to defend the actions in front of a group.

Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. Your goal is to let the offender know how you feel about what was said. Instead of focusing on what the other person did “wrong,” communicate how the incident made you feel and why. Choose words that will help eliminate the offender’s need to defend his or her actions.

Remember your rights. You do not have the right to dictate someone else’s sense of humor. You do, however, have the right to request that this type of humor not be used in your presence