Not long ago, I was given a huge responsibility. Along with a friend and colleague, I was to be a part of a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) presentation on implicit biases. Up to this point, I had already concluded that my own training on this subject would never be over, but this presentation would deliver some fundamentals and create a space where writers and editors could converse about the language we use among ourselves and in the works we create.
The books that come out every year dictate the annual changes in our style guides. They, in short form, tell us what types of language are generally accepted. Following a style guide can help any rhetor work with the fundamentals of language and find their style until they are comfortable enough to enter into conversation with the style guides.
I am lucky enough to have delivered similar presentations on a smaller scale, to have been a part of similar conversations, and to have attended some amazing lectures, seminars, and presentations on implicit biases and loaded language. However, many of these foundational courses lacked a crucial term that outlines the reason why it's so important to learn about loaded language and implicit biases.
Mary Frances-Winters has a course on LinkedIn Learning called "Equity First: The Path to Inclusion and Belonging". In it, she introduces allyship. The definition reads, "a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized people who see your allyship as meaningful" (Frances-Winters, 2022).
I'm focusing on language in this case, but an important part of this definition is that the people for whom the language exists sees it as meaningful to them, that it is giving them the tools they need to succeed and to feel safe and seen in the world. We might be noticing this month, Pride Month, that larger corporations are waving rainbow flags or sporting rainbow logos disingenuously. Criticisms of these companies, most of the time, speak of these companies' lack of allyship. For example, a company can claim to support a pro-LGBTQIA+ cause, but also back legislation that does the opposite.
After having taking Mary Frances-Winters' course, it became necessary for myself and my co-presenter to include allyship as a key talking point.
There are many small things that we can do to be better allies. Supporting small businesses that are ethically run can help. Donating to good nonprofits can be wonderful as well, but for all the good works that these organizations can do, some of them can also be highly discriminatory. To make sure that you know your money and time is going to a good place, www.charitywatch.org can help immensely.
Getting to know people who are different from yourself, listening to understand rather than to respond, and using the language that helps others around you feel safe are all important practices as well.
Ali Almossawi specifically encourages us to be more vigilant readers and to do our best to recognize the subtext, specifically the political subtext, that is all around us. We began with implicit biases. In order to train readers in their vigilance, Almossawi uses the figures of animals rather than individuals or groups so that we are not clouded by our biases as much, but he acknowledges as we all must that everyone has their own biases and their own responsibility to contend with them.
In most chapters, though there are some exceptions, Almossawi follows a simple formula. He introduces terms that different outlets use to hide specific subtext and frame a given issue. He then gives examples of how those terms are used, what that subtext generally is, and the resulting impact.
Almossawi ends this text with some guiding questions that can help us to "read" the world around us. By no means is this a complete list and by no means does the conversation on loaded language end with this book. However, the tools that it provides can help us to be more attuned to what impacts us and what impacts those around us:
"What's missing from this narrative?"
"Is a tribalistic quality like someone's identity, or whose side they're on, being offered up as proof of their goodness or believability?"
"What does this tell me about the writer's point of view?"
"Am I being maneuvered into hating someone or something? Into believing someone or something?"
These questions are not meant to make us feel badly about our values, but they exist because we should remember to ask them. The answer to, "Am I being maneuvered into believing someone or something?" for example, will normally be true. That doesn't make the thing we are being asked to believe inherently bad. That only means that we've asked the question of what we're reading and can, by extension, use the tools at our disposal to think critically about what we've read.
Tribalistic qualities have the power to alter the nature of conversations that we have about different topics. The crime of a person who happens to be in a marginalized group has been used as a talking point for outrage against marginalized groups, as if the crime is innate to them. Thus, the conversation can turn to outrage against the marginalized group as opposed to the crime and empathy towards those against whom the crime was committed.
At its core, language has impact, and navigating language in this environment will always increase in importance. An Illustrated Book of Loaded Language is an excellent and engaging reference book that should be read and re-read and can be a valuable addition to any reader's collection.
'Thank you so much to everyone who has given feedback to Purposeful Prose thus far! A special shoutout to my wonderful friend and colleague, KW (initials to protect anonymity), from The Urban Writers. The space that we created together and the insight that she provided has been more than valuable to the continued development of many writers and editors.
This is the final post from my series specifically on An Illustrated Book of Loaded Language by Ali Almossawi. If you would like to purchase a copy of this book for your own reference, I highly recommend purchasing through a local independent bookseller or Bookshop.org. Proceeds from every sale do benefit independent bookstores, and every receipt will contain the names of the bookstore(s) that you help!
The future of Purposeful Prose promises more collaborations and more reviews of texts that can help people develop their writing!
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Almossawi, A., & Giraldo, A. (2021). An Illustrated Book of Loaded Language: Learn to Hear What’s Left Unsaid (Bad Arguments). The Experiment.
Frances-Winters, M. (2022). Reflection Guide. Equity First: The Path to Inclusion and Belonging. LinkedIn Learning.