Language and Images

Sleuthing for hierarchies does resemble solving crimes. After all, hierarchies are stealing our happiness, peace, and hope, while also killing our safety, contentment, and security.

Our communication tells us what’s important and what isn’t. Who’s mentioned and who’s left out give us important clues.

A Reflection of Society's Values

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Language, titles, symbols, and images teach and reflect the values of any society. Close examination of the way we refer to each other indicates who is in higher groups and who is in lower groups.

We specify one’s position not only by what we say in words or pictures, but also by what is absent:

When we use the terms, titles, voices, stories, or other images of the highest group, we assume we are including each and every one in the hierarchy.

When we show and speak of a lower group, however, we assume we’re talking about only that particular group. The way we present an image meant to be inclusive of everyone is by showing just the highest group or showing everyone.

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Examples

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The “American History” traditionally taught to every student centers around the stories of wealthy able-bodied white males, the military, and wars. There are “special” separate classes for people who want to learn about anyone else — “African American History,” “History of American Indians,” or “Women’s History. ” If we take “Hispanic American History,” we don’t expect to learn “Asian American History.”

The term “gay” is used to describe both homosexual males and homo-sexual females, whereas the term lesbian refers only to females.

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Many consider “mankind,” “land where my fathers died,” “chairman,” “he,” “Latino,” or “him” to be inclusive of both genders. “She,” “Latina,” “her,” and “mothers” denote females only.

“Host” can refer to both men and women, but “hostess” refers only to women. “Actor” can describe both a male and a female performer, but “actress” only describes a female.

The exclusive use of crosses in military cemeteries or at places where several people died assumes that a Christian symbol is appropriate to memorialize people of any religion. Symbols of non-Christian religions are not considered appropriate for Christians. If a symbol for a non-Christian religion is used, we assume the person honored followed that particular religion.

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If a play includes music written by whites, we say “music. ” If it’s written by African Americans, or sung by African Americans, we call it “black music.”

Men, women, boys, and girls are addressed as “you guys” and are described as “guys. ” Women and girls are expected to feel included. Would men and boys answer to “you gals” and feel included in the conversation? Would they take offense if someone assumed they were part of that group?

When we hear Christian prayers at public functions, we assume that we are praying for one and all. If a non-Christian prayer is given, it’s only for people of that particular faith.

 


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