Monday, January 15, 2007

Welcome to "Just Speech"

Welcome to Just Speech. Just to introduce myself: I am a violence prevention educator at a small rape crisis center and domestic violence shelter in Northern Virginia. I also am a community organizer in my spare time, and a former union organizer. I'm an alumnus of the Jewish Organizing Initiative in Boston and Grinnell College in Iowa.
Just Speech refers not only to what I hope to present in this blog (commentary from a social justice perspective) but also the common (mis)conception that words do not influence the world that we live in. When we talk about hurtful words (such as "slut" or "kike"), we often don't analyze beyond the basics, which are usually:
  1. "You shouldn't say those words. They are hurtful."
  2. "Lighten up. You shouldn't be so serious."
While I certainly sympathize with the first statement, it doesn't really explain the depth of why these words are so dangerous. These words are not just powerful, they literally are power. They are verbally abusive, designed to destroy another human being by reminding the target of their vulnerability (due to their membership to a particular sex, ethnic group, or other social category).
This is essentially the danger of the Confederate flag as well--it's not just that it is disrespectful to remind African-Americans of slavery, but it resonates powerfully in a world where whites dominate economically, politically, and socially. It is a reminder that African-Americans are still threatened today--both physically and monetarily.
To say "Lighten Up" is an attempt to prevent social change. It is saying that "my good time isn't as important as equality." It is not "Just Speech"--on any level. It is fundamentally an attack on an entire group's dignity, an attack--when backed up by other forms of power--that produces social inequality. And by devaluing and relegating an individual to lower status, we signal that it is acceptable to commit violence against them. This is the basis for violence against any particular group--women, ethnic minorities, and the GLBT community. (A perfect demonstration of this step-by-step process is how the Jewish people were systematically devalued in early 20th Century Europe. Hopefully, you can contribute other analyses in the comment section)
So let's discover Just Speech together.


put out the big light said...

three cheers for jonathan!

eliza said...

yours is a very important topic, and i'm glad there are people initiating intelligent conversation about the potency of speech, especially in a public forum that seems to be ever-plummeting into crass and and petty banter. you'll surely get a lot of critics, so stay strong and keep your voice loud.

JusticeForAll said...

Thanks for the comments! FYI, I've finally enabled anonymous comments, so everyone can comment.