Wednesday 27 October 2021

When words matter

In last month's post, I made mention of those people who, opposing vaccination passports, claim that this will create a kind of 'apartheid' society. I said that they weren't entirely wrong - and I still believe that these kinds of punitive and restrictive actions do have the (perhaps unintended) consequence of furthering inequalities in society and reinforcing misinformation amongst those who feel that they are being discriminated against. And whilst the vast majority of our population are on the way to being fully vaccination, there has been a slower take-up amongst marginalised communities - particularly people who are Indigenous, from migrant backgrounds or living with a disability.

But, as Mike pointed out, the use of the word 'apartheid' in this context is inaccurate and, let's be frank, offensive. Words matter, and for these groups to adopt language such as 'apartheid' and 'segregation' - that has historically referred to policies of cultural and racial discrimination - is creating a false equivalence. Nobody chose to be black in US states that adhered to Jim Crow laws. Nobody chose to be Indigenous in Australia at a time when they weren't even considered fit to vote until 1967. Whereas everybody now has a choice to be vaccinated (except those with a medical exemption). It's no more a case of discrimination as it is to prohibit people from smoking inside buildings and many public spaces - a habit that poses a health risk to others around them.

Similarly appalling is footage of anti-vaccination protests where people are chanting, 'My body, my choice' - a familiar feminist slogan in the ongoing fight for women's reproductive rights. To equate these public health measures to patriarchal oppression on women's bodies is, again, downright insulting to all who have fought for women's rights.

On the flip side, looking back at media reports and commentary around last month's anti-vax protests in Melbourne, the term 'thug' is often used to describe those protestors. Whilst this word has not historically been so problematic, the context of its common usage in recent years - especially in the US around police brutality and  the Black Lives Matter movement - indicates a strong racial element in its usage. And whilst these is an very strange irony about a group of predominantly white right-wing anti-vaxxers being described as 'thugs', it's time that we think a bit more carefully about the words that we chose, and the ways that they might be unintentionally loaded and misconstrued.

And finally, there's that word, 'freedom' - particularly common in regards to reports of 'new freedoms for vaccinated people' in media releases about easing of restrictions. It implies that that those who are not vaccinated are not free - which really is a misnomer. They always had a freedom of choice, and they are still free to get vaccinated. And living in lockdown, we were still relatively free from the risk of COVID - especially when you compare the statistics with those from other countries.

Words matter - they deserve our care. They have meaning to those who have historically suffered from discrimination, and they are not there for others to twist and adopt for their own unrelated grievances, and add insult to injury.

We're intelligent human beings - we have a responsibility to find better words to serve our purposes if we need them.

(Also - if you can, please get vaccinated. If you have doubts, talk to your medical professional about why you should get vaccinated.)

No comments:

Post a Comment