On the importance of language
Content Warning: this post talks about slavery and human trafficking and the language with which these things are discussed. There is also mention of rape.
There's an important post on FB making the rounds again about how when we change the language we use to talk about slavery the very nature of the conversation changes and the way we naturally respond to these conversations changes. I cannot duplicate the post here (nor should as someone else did amazing work, but I will try and link it later), but I will provide a similar example to the ones they gave.
original: John and his wife Mary were not remarkably wealthy. They lived on a small farm with their two children, three slaves, and one horse. Having come into a recent inheritance, John went to the market and purchased a new slave to help Mary with the housework.
Updated: John and his wife Mary were not remarkably wealthy. They live on a small farm with their two children, a horse, and three people they had human trafficked and enslaved. Having come into a recent inheritance, John went to the market and human trafficked a person and enslaved them to do housework.
If your reaction to the above (or to the post) is anything similar to things like:
This post is for you.
I recently engaged in a conversation with two people and the Latin terms dominus and servus came up. As we began to speak in English I used the words enslaver and enslaved person respectively. The question came up, "but couldn't we just use master and slave". I discussed that we should be speaking about history and its reality. There is no such thing as a nice "master" or a nice coloniser.
Further, I posit that master isn't an appropriate word anyways. In every other situation that I can think of, master is used as someone who is greatly skilled (e.g. a master baker or a master chef). If we go back even further, master is related to the Latin magister/magistra. If we look at magister in Lewis and Short we find it associated with leadership, teaching, advising, etc. I would argue that our use of this word as a "synonym" for someone who engages in human trafficking and enslavement is a bastardisation of the original word and meaning. Does that change, however, that the word master is now used in such a way? No. It does, in my mind, however, help explain why people feel okay with using "master" but that enslaver is an exaggeration.
The realisation I came to in the conversation was that (and I can only speak for Americans) have been trained that master and slave are acceptable terms to talk about the horrors of slavery while still seeming "positive". We have been trained to completely disconnect ourselves from the actual horrors of human trafficking by using these terms. Generally speaking master isn't even related to human trafficking (and it wasn't used in this way until the mid 14th century in regards to serfs and women and subsequently the trans Atlantic slave trade). It is a term that tries to make human trafficking "okay". It makes white people feel better about the atrocities being carried out directly in front of them.
Further, "slave" is an active term the way teacher, mother, and doctor are. It is something we "are" and a position we are "active" in. People are enslaved. They are kidnapped. They are stolen from their homes and forced against their will. This is not an active position or job. It is not an identity. It is a forced term, again, to make people in power and authority feel better about the atrocities they commit or are being committed in front of them.
Call to Action
So here's what we do as people and as teachers.
There is more we can do, but I am going to stop here and direct you to my page on action steps for social justice for that. There are far more important voices than mine when it comes to those kinds of steps and I want to give them focus and credit. I will, however, continue to speak out and take action as a teacher and white woman who has benefited from privilege, particularly today of being educated in a system that prioritises my comfort over actual history.
Please note these are not in APA formatting at this time. I plan to update this later.
This particular blog is dedicated to social justice workings in my professional and personal life.