When someone says or does something ignorant or oppressive, it can be easy to hop on board with any criticism directed toward that person or their beliefs. But it behooves us to be mindful of certain words not to use in arguments over political and social issues — or over anything, really. Two wrongs don't make a right, and trying to fight oppression with oppressive language defeats the purpose.
While liberals often think of conservatives as the ones most guilty of microaggressions, I've heard ableist, classist, and ageist language used by people all over the political spectrum — including by liberals toward conservatives. They're sometimes even used by people trying to combat ableism, classism, or ageism, which ends up undermining the argument.
Words make a big difference, since the way we talk about people affects how we view them. And even when an individual deserves to be put in their place, undermining a marginalized group they belong to doesn't help that. So, while we're all entitled to our opinions, we could stand to be more careful about how we're expressing them, whether we're at protests or in Facebook comment sections.
Here are some words we should stop using to attack arguments we disagree with, along with some suggestions for what to say instead.
After Trump was elected, many people complained that it resulted from the voting decisions of "old people." But while there were some age differences in voting, there were certainly older people who didn't vote for Trump and younger people who did. Don't say "old people" when what you really mean is "outdated ideas."
#YourActivismIsAbleist if you use ableist slurs like "crazy", "stupid", "idiot", "delusional" to take down bigots.— Evander v ♿ (@soul_into_hades) April 5, 2017
It may be tempting to dismiss certain ideas as coming from people who must not be in their right minds. But having a mental illness does not equal being irrational, and "crazy" is a harmful word because it conflates these two things. Plenty of people with mental illnesses do great things for the world, and plenty of people without them do terrible things. If you want to express that an idea is illogical, irrational, or complete nonsense, just say that.
Or something "stupid" (also an ableist slur). It's problematic to use any word for a disability to describe anything else but the way this— Brooke Winters (@brookewinters33) April 16, 2017
"Stupid" can also be an ableist term because it puts people down based on their IQ, developmental disabilities, and other traits outside of their control. Instead, say that the argument is insufficiently reasoned or oblivious to facts.
I love that when criticizing female politicians, looks are always the first blow. Not their actions or words. Nope.— Brie Cheesios (@birdinboots) July 12, 2011
As we've seen in all the jokes about Trump's hair, it can feel like the rule to not judge others by their looks doesn't apply to certain people, especially people like Trump who have put others down for their looks. But shaming one person for the way they look also ends up shaming others who look like them. So attack someone's actions, not their appearance.
"hahah omg there's a naked fat statue of Donald Trump in NYC he looks so gross naked" is still fatphobic/body-shaming even though it's Trump— Michela (@saymthreetimes) August 18, 2016
"Fat" is problematic for the same reasons "ugly" is and because it encourages fatphobia. That naked Trump statue in New York City, for example, encourages the idea that it's OK to make fun of people based on their weight. And again, even if you find it hard to sympathize with him, promoting fat-shaming also hurts many others.
I'm a Dem but not a fan of the #BoycottHawaii tweets that make fun of Trump supporters for being poor/uneducated. It's a bit classist.— Julie (@JulieAntonellis) March 18, 2017
Education is crucial for people to be informed participants in democracy, and the fact that education correlated so strongly with voting behavior in the last presidential election should tell us something. But criticizing people for being uneducated is essentially victim-blaming. Many people in the United States don't have access to good, affordable education, and making fun of incomplete knowledge or poor spelling and grammar doesn't help the issue; it makes it worse.
So tired of people slut shaming Melania. I do not like her either, there is a ton of stuff to not like. Stuff that has nothing to do with …— Corvid (@corvidbliss) April 16, 2017
During the election, many Trump opponents criticized his wife for posing nude in magazines or compared her to Michelle Obama in terms of how "classy" either of them are. But when we say things like this, we undermine other women who have made similar choices, including those on our own side. Criticize the policies instead of slut shaming.