Words DO matter…


Google’s Josephine Baker doodle from June 3, 2017 [part of the slideshow they created to honour her birthday]

Culturally we still find ourselves labeling and being racist, despite how far we think we may have advanced in this area. (Sachs, 2016) explained how white liberals were more racist than they might realized and laid out ten areas of microinvalidations*. Basically, we are not validating another’s racial experience if any of these areas apply to us. A couple that resonated with myself were ‘Denial’, ‘Defensiveness’, and ‘The Pain Game’. Denial is not only putting ourselves out there as ‘not seeing colour’, but we also do not see the fact we tend to live in a privileged space if we are a member of the majority. Blum (Levinson, 2003) acknowledges there is certainly individual ignorance and unconscious acceptance of a societal norm (Levinson, 2003). Defensiveness, basically is saying, “Hey, I am not racist. I am not a part of the problem. I accept all races inclusively.” This approach builds a barrier as we then are not acknowledging the problems and what others struggle with. The Pain Game, dismisses the suffering of others as we place ours in the forefront. (Husband, 2011; Levinson, 2003) are proponents of anti-racist curriculum to help offset the entrenched stereo-types we continue to live with. Besides bringing sensitivity to our youth in becoming anti-racist it also helps the educators to reevaluate tehir own perspectives (Husband, 2011),  Lawrence Blum, (Levinson, 2003 p. 269.) is a huge proponent of changing our language to help tackle racism, by re-defining what racialism and racialized groups. But how can this be done in a bipartisan way? Who decides? Levinson asks these questions alongside acknowledging Blum has touched on an important conversation within addressing racism. While looking at language and racism it is important to acknowledge racist is not a definitely black, white paradigm but rather is inclusive of all racial groups. In his research Kevin Whitehead (Whitehead, 2013) reviewed transcripts from a radio-talk show in South Africa and found self-deprecating talk was heavily used, helping to validate both the stereo-typed image of invalidation of Blacks (in this situation) and also of Whites feeling they were superior. This was an unintentional thread throughout the conversations and another example of how our language reinforces stereo-types and racism, even towards ourselves. 

Before I researched for this blog, I felt I was not a contributor to racism, but now need to re-think this and watch my own words towards others not my own race. I realized I may practice Denial inadvertently, not recognizing I am practicing it when I say, “I don’t even see colour.” I thought that was a freeing comment but it actually is saying, I don’t recognize your struggle. I am looking at it from a ‘me’ perspective, not the ‘other’ and this is microinvalidating (Sachs, 2016). One of the key components in removing any racist word/thought from our lives is to listen, really listen (Arnott, 2002; Sachs, 2016) to what someone of a different race, mixed or otherwise, to hear what they are saying and acknowledge their stories and experiences.  Another factor that will help is to introduce anti-racism in the school system (Husband, 2011; Levinson, 2003) and be conscious of the deprecating language we use (Whitehead, 2013).   A good example of this being effective is when Terry Husband, Jr.  was re-telling a story of a pre-school teacher (Husband, 2011) treatment of ‘flesh-coloured’ bandaids in the classroom. After having all the students compare their skin colour to the colour of the bandaid, there were only a few whose skin tone matched the bandaid. Using this example as a teaching point, the teacher had the class write a letter to the company who made the bandaids. The company responded with a note of apology and sent along clear bandaids.

Within the discussion of anti-racism being taught in the school system, I am reminded of an exceptional video I saw of  Jane Elliott’s, Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes racist experiment a few years back. Here is a clip from 1992, when Jane used her experiment on the Oprah show that was quite impactful. Jane has also brought her methods to Canada and created a video called Indecent Exposure, using it to show the racism towards the Indigenous population. It is a hard hitting video that shows how internalized racism is.

As George Sachs wrestled with this subject of racism he stated, “It hurts to know that my words might have invalidated another, and that I may have contributed subtly to racism.” (Sachs, 2016). As a member of a racial majority, there is a chance we all may need to take ownership of our words and admit George’s thoughts to ourselves. Being honest with ourselves, and conscientious in these areas can help bring about awareness and go a long ways towards healing and safe places for all.

*Momentary acts that serve to invalidate the very people of color [sic] we care about. (Sachs, 2016)

Arnett, J. (2002). Speak Out, For Example. In E. C. Karpinski (Ed.), Pens of Many Colours (pp. 91-95). Canada: Thomson/Nelson.

Buzzfeed Videos. (2014-09-04). Words With Racist Origins. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j328SwxxQzk. 04 June 2017.

Husband, T. (2012). “I Don’t see color”: Challenging assumptions about discussing race with young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39(6), 365-371. doi:10.1007/s10643-011-0458-9

Levinson, M. (2003). The Language of Race. Theory & Research In Education, 1(3), 267. doi:10.1177/1477878503001003001

Sachs, G. (2016-09-25). 10 Ways White Liberals Perpetuate Racism. Huffington Post: The Blog. Retrieved 2 June. 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-sachs-psyd/10-ways-white-liberals-pe_b_8068136.html.

Whitehead K. (2013). Managing Self/Other Relations in Complaint Sequences: The Use of Self-Deprecating and Affiliative Racial Categorizations. Research On Language & Social Interaction, 46(2), 186-203. Available from: Education Source, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 4, 2017.

Diversity Delivers. (2009-02-23). Indecent Exposure. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j328SwxxQzk. 03 June 2017.


Old trees, new trees…

I was talking with my neighbour this morning about the trees that lined our st


Photo from “Weird Twist” Blog post, World History told through Tree Rings. https://weirdtwist.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/world-history-told-through-tree-rings/

reet. One of the reasons I bought the home I’m in was because of the beautiful old trees that stood so tall, which shaded our street and homes like a canopy, and nature lived in their limbs.

But these trees were cut down a few years back and replaced by saplings…it changed the environment, it changed the look of street, it changed an ecology system. Shade plants had to be removed to put sun plants in their place. Air conditioners run longer now because there is no protection from the harsh sun. We are not shaded by the beauty and the nests are gone. As we were talking of the value these old trees had, versus the lack in new trees, I couldn’t help but parallel this concept with ageism. Especially as these words, “…we are neglecting and not valuing wisdom,  you can teach snap chat, but you can’t teach experience…” (Buckworth, 2017) still echo in my mind. I find in my workplace, the company has moved many ‘old trees’ out…removing the wisdom, life experiences, and knowledge of the tree. They are being replaced by ‘new saplings’. These saplings have a worth and value, but they do not have the breadth nor height of a decades old tree. They do no provide the same protection or


Photo from “Travel Writers Tales” post: https://www.travelwriterstales.com/ferries.htm

nurturing. Saplings do not have the strength, the reach, the hardiness of an old tree nor provides the same value. It is impossible, this only comes with what an old tree has gone through to become a many-ringed tree.

As with all analogies, there is not the perfect breakdown and we are humans, and trees are trees, but I still think we can learn a life lesson here…to not dismiss the value of an old tree…there is much that can be gained— alongside the saplings.

Buckworth, K. (2017-01-06). How I Responded When I Was Asked To Recommend A ‘Younger’ Me. Huffington Post: The Blog. Retrieved 27 May. 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kathy-buckworth/ageism-at-work_b_13996942.html.

You look good …for your age


Book Cover and blog logo for Ashton Applewhite: https://thischairrocks.com/

I have never truly understood the expression, “You look good for your age”. I hear it personally and wonder what an appropriate response is? How is an ‘age’ supposed to look? According to (B.Levy, P. Chung, T.  Bedford, & K. Navrazhina, 2013, p. 172) in their intro to addressing ageism in Social Media, “Ageism has been found to exist throughout a wide variety of societal institutions.” My thought and experiences show this to be true as I’ve experienced it in the classroom, my work place, and even by my own children. As a mature student who is considered a “senior citizen” by some parts of society due to my actual age in years I have been a recipient of ageism. As I sit in my classes I am constantly shocked and surprised how my fellow students, who’s demographic on the whole are younger than my own adult children, dismiss elders such as their ‘mothers and grandmothers’ in being able to understand/use technology.  I am an Interactive Arts and Science Major with the majority of my courses involving social media, the web, gaming, and other digital technologies that have developed within the past 20 years. A few years back, I even had an instructor who kept referring to himself and myself as “too old to get it” when it came to technologies…because we were not digital immigrants [those who grew up only knowing the web technology we currently have]. Privately I did suggest to him that this was a form of ageism and I was frustrated to be treated as ‘other’ in the classroom due to my age, but this did not stop him. Ageism is a common problem and one that continues to be perpetuated. My own mother who is 85, is currently learning and actively using her iPhone 6. She has always been computer literate as has my father and I know of many other older individuals who are tech savvy. Yet this is just one broad example of ageism.

I want to share a video from television sitcom, The Office with the character Michael explaining how to avoid ageism in the workplace:

This video may seem funny and is tongue-in-cheek,  but there is sad truth in the humour. This commentary touches on many of the stereotypes I refer to. Aged people are too old to get it, a waste of society, we need to remove them from the jobs and let the younger people have them (Buckworth, K., 2017; Brownell, P., 2014).

Ageism in the workplace is a huge issue not only in Canada, but globally. Kathy Buckworth, Chief Family Advisor for Presidents Choice Financial, writes of her experience when on the receiving end of ageism in her workplace. Below her article (Buckworth, 2017) in an embedded video, Examining Age Bias in the Workplace , she also specifically addresses the global aspect in the following age is lacking in the diversity quotient. Only 8% of the 64% employers who had diversities issues listed as important, included age alongside race and gender. (Levy et al, 2013) pointed out that within Facebook’s mandate in treating everyone fairly, age was not mentioned although all other variables were. Within their studies of Facebook ageism was a huge factor!

It is not all bad news. There is some encouragement as shown by  (Oró-Piquerasa, M. and Marques, 2017)  with their study of some of the highest viewed Youtube videos to see how older individuals were represented. Despite some of these videos continuing the trend of reinforcing stereotypes of ‘old’ people, there were numerous videos that help shed this stereo-type.

Brownell, P. (2014-04-09). Ageism in the Workplace. Encyclopedia of Social Work.Retrieved 27 May. 2017, from http://socialwork.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.001.0001/acrefore-9780199975839-e-844.

Buckworth, K. (2017-01-06). How I Responded When I Was Asked To Recommend A ‘Younger’ Me. Huffington Post: The Blog. Retrieved 27 May. 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kathy-buckworth/ageism-at-work_b_13996942.html.

Cary, L. A., Chasteen, A. L., & Remedios, J. (2017). The ambivalent ageism scale: Developing and validating a scale to measure benevolent and hostile ageism. The Gerontologist, 57(2), e27-e36. doi:10.1093/geront/gnw118.

Levy, R., Chung. P., Bedford, T. and, Navrazhina, K. Facebook as a Site for Negative Age Stereotypes. Gerontologist 2014; 54 (2): 172-176. doi: 10.1093/geront/gns194.

Oró-Piquerasa, M. and Marques, S.; Images of old age in YouTube:destabilizing stereotypes. Continuum:Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 2017. Vol. 31, No. 2, 257-265.

The Office USA. (2015-07-15). Michael’s Tutorial on Avoiding Ageism//The Office. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j328SwxxQzk. 28 May 2017.

Just get over it!

Painting called Overthrown by Marc Chagall

Overthrown by Marc Chagall

“Just get over it.” “The past is in the past.” “What’s your problem?!” “You cry too much.” “You are too sensitive.” “That’s mental.” “What’s wrong with you?!?”

These are common phrases one can hear while navigating mental illnesses. I know. I’ve lived through this myself as I struggle living alongside with complexPTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. As I continue to look at how our language reinforces our identities, I would like to take a quick peak at the subject of mental health.

A good book on the history of mental illness and how society reacted to ‘madness’ is Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason by Michel Foucault. Foucault covers the history from the middle ages to the end of the nineteenth. He shows the progression of erasing those struggling with mental illness (madness) and gaining the stigma that lepers once had. He referred to this marginalization as “the great confinement” of the ‘madmen’ (Foucault, 1988). What I found interesting while reading this book is at one time in history, if one had a mental illness, they were not ostracized from society or treated as ‘other’. Historically language such as ‘moron’, ‘retarded’ have been not only acceptable, but used even in textbooks.  Within my own collection I have an older psychology book called General Psychology. I would like to share some text from this book within the topic of mental health:

Feebleminded persons were recognized long before there were mental tests. They were so lacking in mental ability as to be obvious to the average observer, and if they were social dependents or annoyers, they were segregated in special institutions when such institutions were available. Three degrees of feeblemindedness were distinguished. … the idiot, who is distinguished for his inability to dress and feed himself and to avoid common dangers such as fire and water. … the imbecile, who can avoid common dangers and take care of his elementary personal wants, but cannot be taught to earn a living, even under supervision.  … The moron can be taught to do useful work and can sometimes earn a living, especially under supervision (Guilford, 507, 1939).” [emphasis mine]

Is it any wonder we are so entrenched in our current language when historically these terms were the norm and deemed appropriate? To this day, we hear these phrases  in our use of language, especially in our own self-talk. Present day, bringing mental health into the forefront and erasing the stereotypes and stigmatism has become a current norm of sort. Despite many movements here in Canada such as Bell’s Lets Talk campaign (#BellLetsTalk) are we  making progress? Working at a university, we are becoming more conscientious of students who struggle with anxiety attacks and other mental illnesses and yet I am surrounded by those who still ‘other’ these students and are frustrated at “having to accommodate”.  Even as a student myself, especially when writing papers, I find I do not want to be stereotyped if struggling with anxiety which deeply affects my production of papers, as I have to battle many panic attacks before a paper is written. I do not like to say anything but realize in hiding my own anxieties, it flies

in the face of my own advocacy of bringing mental health issues to the forefront. I just want to be ‘normal’ and found I’d rather accept a lower mark, then bring attention to an anxiety disorder. So I am deny my own issues while standing up for others full disclosures. I then become a part of the problem too. We need to encourage and build safe places to talk of our this situations to help those not struggling see how real this is, be aware, and to accommodate our language and action.

For more educational information:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Guilford, J. P. (1939). General Psychology. Philadelphia: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

What’s wrong with that?

Have you ever just listened to our everyday language? What terminology comes out? At times I do and felt it would be interesting to add comments as I hear them. I encourage you to do the same. Send them to me either in email or within your comments, and I will include them in the list.

Here is one from today.

“I keep her fat so nobody wants her.” ~ Overheard conversation of this man, talking of his wife [who was in his presence] to another friend.

“It drives me crazy when I do this too much.” ~ Myself while writing my blog on mental illness.

Our language reinforces identity

Blame Rapists for Rape NOT Women

IMG_5947 by openDemocracy on Flickr used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Norms. Stereotypes. “-isms”. So many within the context of mental health, racism, gender identity, sexism, ethnicity. I find personally I’ve been fighting against ageism of late. Language is prevalent in reinforcing stereotypes, even when we say we do not have any. Let’s start with simply what is male, female? I don’t mean in the binary sense, but in traits, so sexism really. What defines male? What defines female?” Gone are the stereotypes of boys represented by blue, girls represented by pink. Yet is this true? Even now our language reinforces identities we do not own ourselves.

Two examples of recent date happened to myself in regard to sexism. One was at work when I expressed my frustration to a male coworker over being admonished by another female coworker. The individual I was telling my story to said, “She needs to be put in her place!” This surprised me as the message was two-fold. One “I am superior and she is inferior” and “Men are still wanting to put women in their places.” Both these messages are a reflection of a patriarchal society. Neither message was specifically said out loud, but they were the undertones of his comment. Another message I “heard” was today. I was wore out and tired at work, and very rattled, so needed a place to calm down. I chose a secluded spot on campus to play a few rounds of Mahjong on my phone and calm down a bit. A gentleman on campus passed by and asked what I was doing, and as explained, he said, “Good girl!” I found that patronizing and disrespectful.  Even if not intentional, this male coworker was showing his superiority.  Despite the effort to change to non-gendered terminology, sexism still is portrayed liberally in our language  and terms such as “girl[s]” are belittling (Douglas, & Sutton, 2014) and reinforce sexism not only in a patriarchal sense, but also within victimizing the survivor.

I discovered an excellent example of victimizing the survivor while researching blogs to write in an excellent blog called “Reclaiming the Latino Tag”. The author wrote her own list for the hashtag #SiMeMatan (If I’m murdered). I will conclude with her list. It is a strong statement on how our language in our culture, actions, words, and law reinforce stereotypes. In this particular example, the ‘why’ is it was the female victim’s fault she was murdered. I would encourage you to read the blog for context.

“If I’m murdered:

It would be because I lived by myself in my apartment.
It would be because I confront people that catcall me on the street.
It would be because I like wearing knee high boots and stockings.
It would be because I dyed my hair a lot in whacky colors.
It would be because I hang out more with men than women.
It would be because I go out alone at night without the company of a man.
It would be because I drink when I go out.
It would be because I was flirty and friendly to everyone.
It would be because choose to have sex without being married.”

by nightyignite

Douglas, K. M., & Sutton, R. M. (2014). “A Giant Leap for Mankind” But What About Women? The Role of System-Justifying Ideologies in Predicting Attitudes Toward Sexist Language. Journal Of Language & Social Psychology, 33(6), 667-680. doi:10.1177/0261927X14538638