The “More Than Words” campaign is inspiring the very dialogue Mr. Garcia has criticized it for, evident not only by his response, but the conversations many of us have engaged in with one another because of its atypical approach. His evaluation of the campaign further demonstrates the necessary nature of this tactic in confronting the power of our words. A so-called “passive self-censorship” approach is not what I believe the intent is behind this campaign, but rather it is to inspire reflection on what words we choose to use and why. Dialogue is not the only way to ignite social awareness, nor will dialogue alone reach the multitude of individuals this campaign has managed to reach.
I am grateful that a campaign has brought attention to words that commonly fall through the cracks of typical Macalester discourse. Regardless of whether we think “crazy” is slang doesn’t justify its use. Terms like “illegal alien” are current politically charged words, but to dismiss the etymology and history behind the word “crazy along with the implications of its use do not demonstrate a willingness to be cognizant of its potential harm. Go to Professor Jaine Strauss’ mind-opening course on mental illness and throw around words like “crazy”, “psycho” and “schizo” and you will turn just as many heads as saying “illegal alien” in a political science class.
We should not be so quick to dismiss the “lumping” of these words, because the very point of their inclusion is to challenge us to think about words outside our normal purview and their destructive influence.
These “innocuous” words have power, regardless of intent. Malicious intent is not needed in order to oppress, hurt or marginalize individuals. It is irrelevant whether someone’s intended use of “fag” or “gay” was meant to hurt, because the improper use perpetuates its oppressive nature and negatively impacts people. We are not walking the halls of a segregated high school in the Deep South, but that doesn’t justify our current state of discourse. Equality is not yet present at Macalester; we have plenty of room for improvement. Defending our ignorance doesn’t help us move forward towards a better community, and criticizing a campaign because you don’t see the impact of hurtful words without explicit intent does not exclude their offensive power.
The point is this campaign is to reevaluate why we use these words, and whether they are being used correctly. Feeling so personally attacked means you are missing the intent behind this campaign, and isn’t that the very reason we should care about the unintended damage of these words in the first place?