Sure, you’re a good person. Each day you learn a little more about the rest of humanity, and just by clicking this link you’ve already shown your interest in being a better ally. But while you’ve living a good life, checking your privilege and learning about people of different races, religions, social orientations and identities, there’s an ally opportunity you might have overlooked. The smallest minority. Me. And while I may be a minority of one, I must remind you that my opinion of you is not based on a measured consideration of your cumulative actions, but a far more easily defined concern determined by how well you, my potential ally, adhere to my evolving set of words and considerations.
So here are six words to remove from your vocabulary so you can be a better ally. And to be clear, these are words to be completely banished, not just avoided with me. I’ve had enough “behind your back” allies, thank you very much.
Stop calling people tall. My driver’s license lists my height at 5’ 7" and as you all know, that is a dubious statistic. When I hear people described as “tall” — especially in a positive way — it reminds me that we as a society value things associated with being healthy, attractive, and strong. It is an indirect form of short-shaming that makes it hard for me to pretend my fantastic center of gravity is the asset I hold it out to be.
Did you know roughly 450 million people in the world suffer from some form of mental illness? Most them of them are probably not bothered by you calling someone “nuts.” After all, these people have bigger problems than your colloquial word choices, but some of us, specifically me, do have severe peanut allergies. Indeed, my physician, in collaboration with my personal WebMD research, has declared my nut sensitivity so severe that even hearing mention of nuts could, conceivably, cause a discernible rash. Think about that the next time you want to liken someone suffering from a serious illness to a food product.
Yes, the dropping of the “t” in the word “what” has come to express an increased degree of incredulity. While some take issue with this word as an example of race appropriation, that argument is belied by the racist assumption that this word originated in the African American community in the first place. Instead, “wha” is personally problematic because it reminds me of the two months I had to go to speech therapy in second grade to better pronounce my “T’s.” So be a better ally. Say “what” the way it was intended, and be grateful the 20th letter of the alphabet comes so easily to you.
“The Big Game”
I have nothing against professional sports; they just don’t fit into my schedule. Nevertheless, despite not involving me personally, sporting events continue to be immensely popular for millions and millions of people so you really have your ally work cut out of you. Each time you reference the big game, you’re reinforcing that I’m somehow different, placing me in an adversarial position. And while that might make for good sporting, it doesn’t serve your role as ally.
Without a moment’s thought you use the hashtag to accentuate whimsical social media messages or sometimes even to support worthy causes such as #BringBackOurGirls or #IceBucketChallenge. But while you’re doing your part to aid the downtrodden or fight disease, do you ever take a second to consider the collateral psychological damage you’re inflicting upon others and/or me? Sure, to you the hashtag is a way to underscore a point, but to me it’s a brutal reminder of that tic tac toe game my father won on my sixth birthday before abandoning us forever.
Seriously? Ally? How about “friend”? Or are you too good to be friends with someone who mandates all aspects of your speech just so he can navigate his day with minimal challenges to his perceptions of self?
Wayne Gladstone’s funny novel
Agents of the Internet Apocalypse
is available at all fine bookstores.