Language, embeddedness, and perspective/normativity

It’s really only recently, within the past couple of years or so, that I have begun really, seriously considering and reflecting on just how embedded I am in a world where white, male, straight, Anglo-European, blue collar middle-class, small town, and education level so define the way I see things, the way I speak of things.

So many times the language I use is the language of habit, unthinkingly reflecting the place from which I come and the privilege in which I am embedded. While there is a sense in which the only language I have to use is that which I have inherited and developed within that embedded-ness, it is also true that I must be critical about the language I use to speak and even to form my thoughts internally. The language I use often uncritically mirrors that which I believe is either wrong or at least not normative, and yet I tend to see situations as if my perspective was the norm, and as if someone else would be “wrong” simply because s/he did not see the world colored in the same shades I do.

It is not as if I can escape being white, male, etc. and there is a real sense in which I can and should embrace those things about myself that so deeply make up significant parts of who I am. I can’t exactly rewind on my education, nor do I want to – indeed, I believe one of the most important reasons to become educated is to learn how to critically engage my very self and the ways that my perceptions create my world. I don’t believe the language I use, culturally conditioned as it is (for all language is culturally conditioned), is fallen beyond the point of redemption. I cannot and should not seek to assimilate my self, in all its glorious and hideous embedded-ness, into a place that is foreign to myself – but at the same time I need to acquire a sense of limited perspectivity beyond that to which I have already attained.

Or, to use Don Miller’s language from Blue Like Jazz, I need to stop believing the lie that life is primarily a drama about me.

Strangely, it is often precisely at the times I am most aware of this need that I find myself having thoughts shaped by language and habits I believe do not honor the image of God in those who are different than me – reproducing stereotypes of race, gender, class, sexuality. I’d like to think it’s because thinking of such things in that context brings them closer to the surface so I can begin to be healed from them… but sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just because, despite the fact that I think I believe in radical equality and the Imago Dei present in all people, I’m really just a bigot at heart.

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5 Responses

  1. have you heard of the new book Brown Like Coffee at brownlikecoffee.com ?

  2. Nope. How does it relate to this thread?

  3. You framed some of my thoughts well. Do you mind if I use some of this in a term paper on diversity I’m writing?

  4. Sure, go ahead! I’m flattered.

  5. Is Brown Like Coffee a response to Blue Like jazz?

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