language and the “tradition” dichotomy.

Words are powerful.  If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have so many of them to fit so many nearly-the-same-but-distinctly-different definitions.  If word choice didn’t matter, we wouldn’t strive so hard to land the perfect language for a speech, for mediating a situation, for writing an essay, or for nailing an interview.  Can you deny that the importance of selecting our words in these situations is of utmost important?  I sure can’t.

I think about the importance of word choice in everything I do.  Even if I sit down to this blog to write about a mundane topic or the environment or what have you – I am still constantly aware of generalizations, the words I choose, and how the combination of these things affects the way my message is delivered and subsequently received.

Language is so undeniably important, and yet it is also disrespected to prove petty points.  When I wade through law to pull apart issues of land desecration and environmental rights, language means everything because of the interpretations it may or may not elicit.  When I write about indigenous rights, language also has a powerful impact – from topics regarding traditions, to mascots, and especially to cultural appropriation.  It seems like you can’t write about these topics without taking care for the language you use.  And yet language is often slandered for being overtly “PC”, as a mechanism to walk on eggshells without “offending the weak and fragile”.

That, to me, is pure hypocrisy

Are we selective with our selective word choices?  Do we only use caution to assure personal gain, like in an interview, then act rash to defend things we don’t want taken away from us regardless of what rights we have to protect it?

Those of us who recognize how something can so unfortunately symbolize a damaging remnant of American history can see the power of the”rebel flag” to those affected by its history.  Perhaps these same people can see the dehumanizing elements of Native mascots used by predominantly non-Native society.  Surely we grasp that using certain words, like “retarded” or “redslur” or “n-word” are easily avoidable, unnecessary labels that cause more damage that good from their uses.  Yeah, being politically correct is a pain, but since when was being “PC” derogatory rather than simply respectful.

I see how my Facebook community lights up at acts of courtesy, like holding a door open or paying for the next person’s order.  I see how they spread the word of what they may call “Christian deeds” and post memes about “the old days” and having “no hope for the future”.

Newsflash: The “old days” weren’t very inclusive, and political correctness is one way to overcome this.  So, by bashing political correctness, you’re creating a kind of hypocrisy, aren’t you?

Language certainly has an enormous impact on how we interpret, perceive, and understand something.  And I have see how crucial this is in human rights battles, including those to remove race-based mascots.  It seems like the most vehement arguments for keeping them pertain to “tradition” and “culture”.  But whose traditions and cultures are they, really?

The Merriman-Webster dictionary – or course, I’m going there – defines tradition in two ways.  The first is as an inherited religious or social custom passed down through actions and behaviors.  The second is the oral tradition do passing down beliefs and customs.

The dictionary also defines culture as customs, beliefs, arts, – sure, even sport and athletic forms, that a particular society makes as a way of life, thinking, behaving, or even working.

When I think of arguments to keep the Cleveland baseball mascot “tradition”, of course this seems illogical to me.  How can you call this tradition?  We actually call baseball the American “pastime”.  Well, by definition, a pastime is merely just that: something pleasurable to pass time.  It has been a part of the very young “American” culture for an even younger amount of time.  It has been racially and gender exclusive for an even smaller amount of time.  Just ask Hank Aaron.

An example, however, of tradition and culture in sports would be the Haudenosaunee and lacrosse.  Yet high schools in New York – Haudenosaunee homeland – play this sport with mascots that are racial slurs against the people who have worshipped this adopted sport as their very tradition and culture.  One that actually meets dictionary standard.

Language is powerful, and to me these arguments are so transparent that I mourn the severe lack of fundamental understanding of the situation that the opposition I face evidently has.  I mourn the resistance of political correctness in a country that boasts about freedom and whose citizens long for the “good ole days” of respect while simultaneously dismissing the way modern society embraces one another lovingly.  I especially mourn the emphasis we put on athletics, particularly National teams.  Because, in the true tradition of this land, sports served as a way to discipline each other and stengthwn ourselves both physically and morally.  Today, in mainstream society – it has become a place where language is not used with discretion, where the individual profits, and where the true meaning of “tradition” gets buried in an uphill struggle to not respect the opinion of another’s defense of his/her actual culture and tradition.

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