Keep Listening and Keep Trying

I just came across “Plain and Natural,” an excellent post by editor Wendy Lamb exploring the issues around diversity definitions. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I do worry about my use of terms, that they are the right ones. As those Wendy consults for her post point out, the answer is complicated.

Wendy concludes:

And now I see that I was after the wrong thing—clear, direct language.  The language is often awkward because the discussion itself is still awkward.  The fact that we’re puzzling, and tripping up, over our words is a good sign. Change can be clumsy. Earlier terms were less convoluted, but not inclusive. Plain and natural: That’s not going to happen for a while. Keep trying.

Dear reader: I’d love to hear what you think.

What I  think it that we need to listen. Most importantly, to the young people whose ways of self-identifying are constantly changing. What might have been a way a young person self-identified thirty years ago may be different today. We need to pay attention to this.  We also need to listen to parents, librarians, teachers and others who work closely and directly with children. Mind you, to a broad, broad, broad swath of voices. Urban, rural, north, south, central, poor, middle class, and more. We need to be open to as many view points as possible.

Finally, I agree with Wendy that the conversation is awkward and will continue to be for a while as society keeps changing. But that we must keep listening and keep trying.


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4 responses to “Keep Listening and Keep Trying

  1. debbiereese

    I love that she changes “settled/discovered” whenever she sees it! I am curious about why she deletes “tribe.” American Indians aren’t a race, so I am glad she points to the misuse of “racial.” My essay on that is here.


    • HI Monica, thanks for your response, you are so right, listening is key. Though no matter how we try to be sensitive and aware, at times we’ll choose the wrong term; no matter how good our intentions are, we will offend, because sometimes–often– it’s impossible to fully comprehend the subtleties of an individual’s self-identity.
      Especially with kids and teenagers.
      So listen, and ask what is the preferred term, though asking may not lead to an answer (as with Susan Guerrero’s family.) Still, a useful conversation.

      Debbie–thanks for the article!


      • Thanks to both of you. Wendy, I found the information from Susan especially informative as it showed how generational this all is. How one word might be preferred at one time and then no longer. I’ve been reading aloud Alice in Wonderland to my class and they are interested in the use of the word “gay.” I think it has gone from meaning something along the lines of “playful” to a pejorative word to a positive term, at least in their world. That is, my fourth graders do not consider it or use it as a slur at all even as kids just a few years older than them may still do. They’ve just grown up with lots of positive discussion at home, in school, and in what they read and view about this. And so instead of giggling when I read “gay” in Alice they just pointed out it was different than our use today and then we moved on.


  2. Sandy

    Sadly, gay is still a slur in my small town just a few miles from Ann Arbor. A few years ago when I read “Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon” I did a little research on when gay started to be used as a term for homosexuality, and according to the OED it began in the 1940’s.

    I think “tribe” has the connotation of “uncivilized” – and maybe a hint of the exotic, like “tribal tattoos”. I try to use “groups” or just “people” when I’m writing about different Native groups.


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