It’s not political correctness gone wrong or an attack on freedom of speech. It’s a call-to-action to empower those on the margins to have an equal role in authoring our National and global story.
My Facebook feed is flooded with back to school photos today. It’s likely these students will, at some point in their day, be asked to place their name at the top of a paper. Chances are that name will be placed in the margin. More importantly, though, they will be the authors of their own stories. Their name on the page, while seemingly trivial compared to what else they will create in the remainder of the page, implies ownership and adds an extra layer of feeling valued.
Yesterday, my Facebook feed included three stories that crystalized a theme for me regarding the metaphorical significance of what students in my area are doing today–placing their own name in the margin and authoring their own story.
The first article addressed President Obama’s decision to return the namesake to Alaska’s highest peak, Mount Denali, a name of great significance to native Alaskan people, specifically the Koyukon Athabascans.
The second article highlighted several professors at Washington State University and their efforts to deter oppressive and hateful language within their classes by penalizing students with points off their grade if certain phrases are used within their writing or are repeatedly used in class discussion.
The final article outlines suggestions (not mandates) for inclusive practices at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Specifically, the article discusses gender neutral pronoun use so as not to assume someone’s gender identity based purely on looks or on a gender binary indication on a class roster.
I’ve read vitriolic reactions to each of these articles in the Comments sections, many of which cite these instances as yet another example of political correctness gone-wrong or an attack on free speech. And it’s easy to think of it in those terms if you deem yourself the author of the story, even if that story is not yours to author.
Each of these three articles is about a group of people on the margins of American society, whether because of culture, ethnicity, or gender identity. In some of cases, not only has the story about a group been authored by someone else for centuries or decades, but the name in the margin has been chosen for them as well.
When you don’t feel you are the author of your own story, damn right you’ll fight for a name, even a name in the margin. It’s a way to regain a feeling of ownership; a feeling of value.
Perhaps instead of chalking this up as political correctness or an attack on free speech, we should see this as a call-to-action to empower those on the margins to have an equal role in authoring our National and global story. I think if we can do this effectively, we’ll find that the arguments over what name to put in the margin will fade.
Image credit: Leandro Martinez/flickr