Having a voice to be seen to be considered human.
Language and Visibility make a difference to people. When people become demystified, their presence within society becomes normalised and so people who had no interaction with them before, start to understand them, and as such accept them within society. This is a good thing as it has led to positive changes within history. This is how divorce, women’s rights to vote, acceptance of homosexuality, the end of apartheid in places etc began. Marginalised voices and groups becoming visible means that they are seen as people, that they too can claim rights as people, they are humanised and as such demand the same level of respect as every other group. Equal rights for all doesn’t take away the rights of others. Equality is not a pie. Everyone should have equal rights. This is a simple position to take.
However, those who have enjoyed their superior position within society, at the expense of others do see equality as a threat. It often forces them to question their views, and if those who had previously been marginalised and oppressed have a voice, do their views make them the minority? If they are the minority, will they then get treated the way they have treated those they hated? I always look at the irony of Crystal Minton, a Trump supporter when she was faced with the consequences “I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” she said of Mr Trump. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.” To me, that is so unnecessarily cruel, but it does lead me to look deeper into such points of view.
Human action, at the base level, can be broken into pleasure-seeking or pain avoidance. If it’s the latter, it’s because they see others as a threat, and so the cruelty imposed is to protect themselves. If it’s the former then they enjoy cruelty to others. Now, most people are empathetic to some extent, and so when they see others in pain, they too will ‘feel’ that pain. To enjoy other’s pain they thus have to either feel it and enjoy knowing that the other person is suffering, or the alternative is that they don’t feel that person’s pain. It’s much easier to be cruel if the other person is dehumanised. It’s easier to dehumanise a person if you keep them in the “other” box, villainise them and such, keep your supposed superiority. This is why it’s so important for marginalised communities to have a voice and be seen.
Visibility allows people to join together as they realise they are not alone. Once people or groups of people acknowledge that others have gone through similar experiences, have had the same prejudices, have been manipulated similarly, they gain strength. They can begin to consolidate their power. They can drop the shame that was imposed upon them by society and begin to live their best lives rather than hiding in the fringes. Visibility means that they can see just how many of them there are in terms of numbers. When people who were initially isolated & shamed get together, understand the root causes of problems and express themselves, society gets a movement. This can be seen with the BLM, MeToo, LGBTQIA+, women’s rights movements and many more. If you can keep this from happening such as ‘The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ which is dubbed as the anti-protest bill in the UK, it means a better way to control narratives and keep power. Thus, isolation serves the purpose for the oppressors controlling the mainstream in that it keeps people in their place. They can’t make demands if they can’t be heard or seen.
Language thus becomes an even more important tool since it too can keep the narrative of oppressors. Society is malleable, constantly changing and evolving. What is mainstream today will probably be different tomorrow. We know that fascism is bad, Hitler is bad and thus we should all be against it. WW2 fundamentally changed the world because of this ideology. As a black person, I fear the fascist and far-right because their hatred of me is based solely on my skin, not my actions. However, that didn’t stop me from being concerned about ANTIFA. ANTIFA stands for Anti-Fascism, and so by coining the term to describe those whose actions are considered terrorist and at the extreme with a generic umbrella term, you start to see a shift in thought. Logically it, therefore, stands to reason that if you are against ANTIFA, you are pro-fascist. By changing the binary views of Fascism vs Anti-Fascism, the discussion changes to put the onus on those who are against fascism to explain themselves. It also takes away the spotlight from the many fascist groups that are using terrorist actions and nazi propaganda to gain traction. The different fascist groups promoting white supremacy & segregation are given names to distinguish themselves from the true terrorists of ANTIFA. Thus, a simple change, adopted by the masses through wanting to fit in becomes the norm. Why does this shift become logical? Because looking at humans on the base level, we all have the desire to be normal. Normal means fitting in. It’s therefore easier to just accept how things are, rather than do your research to gain a deeper understanding. If I hadn’t been curious to know who this new terrorist organisation was, I’d just have accepted that ANTIFA is bad. Whilst we have a plethora of different terms for new age fascists & the different categories of the far-right, I’ve found that ANTIFA is used to encompass everything that the far-right disagree with. Anti-fascism is now often associated with the far left rather than its true meaning of being opposed to fascists.
Language evolves, so why is this important to me- after all Queer was able to be reclaimed! Because of the normalisation of right-wing ideology, however small it starts, evolves and grow. Take the term Racism. It’s used, often interchangeably, to describe systemic as well as racial prejudices, which often changes the narrative from “it exists & thus needs to be resolved”, to one of semantics “well if you can’t define it, does it exist, is it important or is it a matter of opinion and thus can be ignored”.
- Some argue that marginalised groups can’t be racists because they lack the economic and social ability to oppress and so the most that they can be called is prejudiced. “Black people can’t be racist”
- Some believe it doesn’t exist because they don’t see the institutional structures that have been put in place to disadvantage black communities, arguing that they too have had a hard time of it. “Because white boys from lower-income, poorer funded communities have a hard time, racism doesn’t exist but it’s used to suppress these real injustices”
- Some argue that everything negative that happens to them is based on their race and not stupidity. “Is it ‘cos I’m black?”
What this line of thinking does is draw attention away from the Racist elephant in the room, pit people against each other as they are told to blame the other for the disadvantages they face, whilst keeping people in their place. The celebration of ignorance, the lack of trust of experts or scientists, the proliferation of fake news etc all work to ensure that those marginalised, have a limited voice, limited visibility and thus limited power.
Change is hard, power is rarely given but fought for, and as long as people will continue to see their opposition/competitors as sub-human, they can continue to be dismissive of the other. It is therefore as important as ever, I believe, to make sure that everyone has a voice and is seen for the whole person they are. Don’t be put into a box. The future is inclusive and can be better for everyone!
- Below are links to the police bill in the UK