Independent Submission Politics

How Language Divides Us

Right now, in 2021, the United States is seeing more political division than it has since the civil war. I could go on and on about how dangerous it is, how much I despise the two party system, and the hundreds of events that had led to where we are today. However, recently I’ve noticed one unique aspect of our political division problem, and it is rooted in our language.

Years ago, if you had asked me what the word “racism” meant, I would have answered with a broad description that encompasses any sort of dicrimination towards someone based on the color of their skin. Now, I do not know. With the George Floyd protests taking over U.S. media over this past summer, the idea of redefining racism is now in the spotlight. In simple terms, the new idea is that racism is only one way, from a group in power towards a minority group. I won’t go into too much depth about developing a new definition here because I am more interested in what this change in definition represents. 

For me, the idea of blindly accepting a new definition for any word feels uncomfortable, and sort of orwellian. Can we really just “redefine” words? Is that allowed? Do we have some sort of rule book to tell us what we can and cannot do with our words? I consider myself to be a fairly progressive person, as I believe that there is always something that can be improved. However, the idea of altering language presents me with an intellectual obstacle. The prgressive part of me says that it is perfectly fine to change the definition of a word if it is no longer fitting, especially if it helps promote positive change. However, as I study the great political divide in the United States, I am beginning to think otherwise. 

Firstly, changing the definition of a word seems to only create more conflict. People don’t like to be lied to, and few things makes them feel more victimised than their favorite media sources attempting to change a familiar word in order to fit their agenda. Even coming from a progressive person, I don’t blame them.

I also find that new definitions don’t spread very easily. Especially in times with targeted media consumption and biased news, it is easy for people of differing political views to never come across the concept of a redefined word. The new definition of racism for example, the idea that it can only be targeted towards a minority group, is truly so liberal that most conservatives will never hear about it. So, when the time comes that two people of different stances start to have a discussion about a topic such as racism, there is a difference in the language they might use. I can’t see how you could have an intelligent conversation about such a touchy subject when the two parties don’t even use words the same. This brings me to my next point.

When we change the meaning of words, I think that it takes away from the point of discussion. Once again, racism is a perfect example. When I try to discuss the school to prison-pipeline with my more conservative father, most of the time we don’t even discuss the real problem and try to come up with a solution, because I find myself correcting him on his use of politically correct language. As important as it might be for a politician or person in power to be sensitive to the words they choose, it is extremely inhibiting to deem the use of specific words as a priority in a regular conversation. 

I do understand the appeal in changing words. To continue the discussion of racism, it is difficult to fix a problem that primarily applies to one group when we have people using the word so carelessly. To clarify, since the problem we are trying to fix is racism against African Americans, it seems counterproductive for a white person, for example, to victimize themselves and claim that they are facing racism as well. It pulls away from the problem at hand, and can be seen as offensive to those that are victims of the larger issue. In this sense, it makes sense to desire a more specific definition to discuss the problem of racism, which is where the concept of redefining the word comes from. However, as discussed, this simply does not work as efficiently as we would hope. Instead, it distracts from the discussion and causes more conflict. 

Even though the word racism is just one example of this phenomenon, it can also be seen in the concept of what is defined as a hate crime, implication towards sexual orientation, and more. So, while each of these concepts and words have different situations in terms of their changing definitions, they all represent an issue that I believe is important to address. The issue of fundamental differences in ways of thought between the two parties in the United States, that only contribute to the current divide. So, is the answer to create a rule that stops us from changing language? Or, is this changing language simply an effect of the divide rather than a problem in itself? How can we use this concept to help unify the nation? 

Independent Submission Politics

American Betrayal

I am from the United States, both physically, and mentally. Though I haven’t lived there in over five years, it plays a major role in my identity, whether I like it or not. Engulfed by my extremely liberal school, I sometimes get caught up in the idea that America sucks. Americans are stupid. The American government is evil. I walk home after a long day of school and swim practice, and I argue with my father over the most recent conflict in the United States. He always says the unjust American government is no worse than every other nation. Sure, police brutality is a problem, but he argues that it’s a problem everywhere else too. I always find myself stumped by his points. Why do I- and many of my friends- feel like the United States is so horrible when all of its evils have an equivalent from a different country?

I have thought about this a lot, and the reason many americans feel so passionately about the problems in the United States isn’t necessarily just because of the explicit wrongs. It’s betrayal. I feel betrayed by my own country. 

A part of me says that whatever I’m feeling is just the price I pay for growing up. It is simply a result of my fading ignorance and new awareness for the world around me. When I talk to my friends, who are from outside of the United States, they don’t relate in the way I’d hope. Their disappointment doesn’t root as deeply as mine. Do I personally just care more about the problems that plague my country? Am I simply overly patriotic and facing inevitable disappointment as I see the truth? 

In second grade, after I put my backpack in my cubby labeled “Annie” in large font, I sat on a colorful rug decorated with zoo animals, letters, and numbers. My classmates and I listened to the morning announcements, whispering to each other and quietly trading silly bands. We then stood up, pledged allegiance to our flag, and recited the golden rule. This was a standard morning. In fact, through the 3 other places I lived following these memories, one being an American school in a different country, the single part that remained the same was the pledge of allegiance. I recited it every morning of school through 9th grade, after which I moved to my current school in Singapore. 

None of my friends from outside of the United States share this memory with me. It may seem small, but I now realize how pledging allegiance to my country every morning for the first 9 years of school has made an impact. I am seeing life through a veil. Even if I don’t verbally express it, the way in which I was taught about the world and my own country while living in the United States causes me to feel a sense of superiority and pride for my country. It may sound like I am simply describing patriotism, but it is more. To feel patriotism I would be able to admit it. However, as I described, most of the time I wish I weren’t American. I now understand why. The education system I grew up with in the United States infected me with an inseparable feeling of pride for my country, that when challenged, uprooted my way of thought. As if all of my truths were no longer valid. 

When conservative Americans complain about the recent “anti-american” sentiments, I believe they are feeling the same thing. It is not their fault they are blinded by the United State’s “superiority.” They have been infected by the American education system just as I have, and just has everyone else in the United States has. The only difference is that I have left the place in which this force thrives in, and am surrounded by healthy people. 

Just as conservative Americans refuse to separate from this force, liberal thinking people are simply a different product of this same force. Rather than holding tightly onto their roots, they are fighting it. They are realizing that everything they have been taught is a lie, and that the United States is no better than any other country. Just as most other powerful nations, the U.S was built on faults. The only difference-causing the unparalleled passion from opposite sides of the American divide- is how we were taught. So, as different as the ideas of a middle aged white man in Texas and a teenager in California may seem, they are all the product of a veiled truth. The product of a failing education system that has lied to them. 

So, I guess the next step would be to find a solution. If we alter the American education system, will the stark division begin to disappear? What exactly needs to change?