Monday, May 13, 2013

Listen to Learn

This is post number two in the My Art, My Activism series.

In my last post of the series, I mentioned vigilance, working to eliminate slurs and unintentionally hateful language or images from one’s work. (If you are so inclined to cross creativity with activism.)

I was thinking about vigilance, and a question found its way into my brain case.

How does a privileged person know when he or she is creating in a marginalizing way? How does someone outside of a marginalized group recognize othering or hateful language if the words they use aren’t intended in that fashion or don’t seem harmful?

It sounds difficult.

It sounds like a huge effort requiring a person to know everything there is to know about every kind of marginalization that exists in the world and then somehow put him or herself into the shoes of that marginalized person. But there’s still the chance for a mess up because no one’s perfect, and how do you fix that?


Listen and learn.

Go to the places where marginalized groups speak about the hardships they face. Read and listen to the words. Then act accordingly. If the community identifies a word or phrase (such as “lame” for instance) as hostile to them, do everything you can to work that word out of your vocabulary. Learn to say what you mean (like calling a rule “unfair” instead of “lame” for instance). Learn to own up to a mistake and be more diligent after you’ve made one (instead of calling the group “overly sensitive” or moaning about the unfairness of being “word policed”).

Rinse and repeat.

This part of vigilance is a cycle. We’ll make mistakes. But we can learn from those mistakes and do better. The important part is apologizing where it’s appropriate and continuing to be vigilant.


  1. I like this and agree! I don't know how many authors actually incorporate sensitivity or activism into their writing but I've never really thought about it my self to the degree you have. For example the term "Lame" never occurred to me it could be seen as derogatory. Partly because I've never associated it with being slang deriving from disabled. Thanks for sharing, I'll try and be a bit more intentional.

  2. The My Art, My Activism series is targeted to artists who already want to incorporate their activism and their work. This was inspired by a post on Flyover Feminism about an artist who does so.

    The idea behind this post was to point out that in order to have effective activism one MUST include the margi alized group one intends to be an ally to in the discussion because what they find deragatory may not be what you think is derogatory.