Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always oppress me – Mo

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Learning |

words matter

This week I’m trying something different. There will be a series of guest blogposts every other day from a good friend doing amazing work. I met Mo through Seth Godin’s Akimbo workshops – two aid workers in marketing workshops. Odd, but also instant connection. We’ve never met in person, but every time we talk I’m left pondering for over a week. Today is Mo.

Words have power – more than just the meaning in the dictionary. Language is one of the most powerful tools that can oppress others.

I struggled with reading and writing English all my life, especially in childhood, which is not unusual for a first-generation migrant.

Flash forward to now and I feel like I have finally got to grips with writing ‘aidlish’ – a form of English we use in the aid sector. It’s taken 15 years.

In the aid sector we are constantly using cultural idioms (my definition: phrases only used by a specific group or culture). We constantly use complex language and words far too obscure for everyday reports. (Was that Latin in the email?)

And then, the length of reports – they never seem to get shorter.

We have seen people speak up about changing words such as ‘aid’ – I believe we should also be looking closely at all our day-to-day language and the words we use.

In my view, we create racial barriers because of the words we use, both spoken and written form. We create in-groups and out-groups. We create divides, biases. As Amos said in his recent workshop: ‘Bias is oppression.’

This blog post was inspired by the amazing book So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Please try buying from a local bookseller if you can.

Mo is one of the hosts of The Innovation, which helps people grow their mindset to make change happen. He also facilitates two workshops called Unleashing your inner leader and Anti-racism essentials.

Photo by Brett Jordan


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