Isn’t it interesting how prevalent it has become to read a word or phrase which has the connotation of “all”, and instead misinterpret it as meaning “only”?
On an almost daily basis now, there is a story popping up in the news which features people doing this, which aside from anything makes you question the global education system (which is another rant for another time). The two most common occurrences are the following;-
Black Lives Matter (which apparently reads only black lives matter)
Feminism (which apparently reads only women deserve fair treatment)
It’s easy to say that this is symptomatic of the commentators. If you’re a white cis male then you’re obviously going to feel threatened by statements which aren’t inclusive of you. In a world of refusal to recognise privilege, all claims referring to a specific group will be immediately thrown out as ‘not truly inclusive’. But it’s not only those who don’t conform to the noted criteria who are getting in on the act.
There are a new wave of women who refuse to associate themselves with the word feminist, or feminism, because they feel that it doesn’t represent their values. In turn, they are berated by women who do see themselves as feminists, for not recognising the struggle of women through history or for not recognising the struggle of women today in different circumstances than those of the privileged (blog-writing) west.
It’s no wonder really that there are a third group of women, and non-gender conforming individuals, and men, looking on in horror at the whole mess. I can state unequivocally that from my position here in group 3, I’m struggling to know how to identify. Yes, I want equality between genders. Yes, I feel that historically women have lacked rights which men have been privy to. But that also doesn’t mean that I’m only fighting for that equality for women, and the word feminist is incredibly toxic, in a linguistic sense, because it evokes that.
There’s a similar issue with black lives matter. This time typed without capitals, because to begin with, it’s key to distinguish between the activist organisation, who do engage in activities which many don’t condone, and the plain English phrase.
Firstly, the phrase, and it’s constant rebuttal that “all lives matter”. Well yes, and who said they didn’t? You’re reading it wrong, and inserting an “only” on the front where it doesn’t exist or belong. The internet has plenty of great cartoons explaining the difference between “only black lives matter” and “black lives matter as well” so I won’t labour the point here.
Secondly, it’s all too common that people read “black lives matter” and hear “white lives don’t”. Which is an interesting one, because we live in a stunningly multicultural and multicoloured world, and yet western mass media still manages to whitewash all race issues.
The list goes on. Some gay men carrying HIV is read as both all gay men and only gay men. Of course there’s always the favourite of all Muslims are terrorists, and all terrorists are Muslim – two very different opinions, neither of which are correct. And onwards to the milder, but still harmful, views such as bisexuality equalling indecisiveness or greed, and mental illness meaning lack of competence.
In the end it’s all words and interpretations, mixed up with misjudged perspectives and delusional world-views. The big problem is, it is alienating the masses (my group 3 from above) who genuinely do want a better world all round but who can’t find the words to express that solidarity without fear of antagonising others. Language has power, and right now that power is being abused.