In Defense of Alphabet Soup


Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

By Bella Levaggi

A lot of today’s social and cultural hot button issues can seem hopelessly mired in a maze of terminology. To an outsider, there seems to be a million specifics to keep track of, and it can get confusing and overwhelming. The myriad letters for sexuality and gender expression combined with pronouns and ethnic identities makes for a convoluted bowl of politically correct alphabet soup. Only certain people can call certain people a certain term, and maybe there’s another label that applies to a lot of people, but not everyone, so you might as well not use it at all in case you mess it up. In short, the process can be exhausting.

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong
Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Therefore, it’s understandable that some are intimidated by the thought of accidentally offending someone, frustrated by the confines of constantly adhering to lengthy politically correct rhetoric, or are just overwhelmed, and slip up – intentionally or not.

Maybe it’s the kid in my calculus class who grumbles when Ms. Proksch calls him out for using the word “retarded” to describe continuous functions, or the nondescript students whom I overhear exchanging wonderfully unoriginal fat jokes.

Honest mistakes are to be expected in the region of political correctness, and actually just show that you’re trying. But consciously ignoring the modern standard of respecting people’s identity through language is an entirely different story.

While there’s no way for me to know the motives behind someone’s “politically incorrect” missteps, what I do know is that I value words and the massive power they hold. Language has a unique ability to convey complex ideas, and I suffer what can only be described as massive disappointment when words aren’t utilized to their maximum potential. There is no other form of communication that can express such linguistic nuances and evolution as referring to someone with proper pronouns or realizing that it’s wildly offensive to appropriate the n-word as a person of non-African American heritage. But my disappointment can quickly turn to anger, because just as Albert Einstein was horrified upon hearing of E=MC2’s use in the development of the atomic bomb, I similarly despise when words are used to target others in a way that attacks a core part of their identity. It’s one thing to be ignorant or lazy, but entirely another to willfully stampede over another person’s right to their chosen labels without considering why they need them in the first place.

The purpose of politically correct terms and technicalities isn’t to make others’ lives harder; it is to create a safe, respectable way to distinguish a unique person from the flood of social homogeneity. Many terms represent a group of people who are all too often made to feel “less than” and different.

Identifying as “Cherokee” versus “Hopee,” or a specific term within the LGBTQQIA+ label, allows individuals to escape being lost in the shuffle of other people’s terms and challenges the problematic idea of ignoring linguistic specifics on the grounds that “we’re all human.”

Yes, we are all in fact human. But no two humans are the same. A vast majority of us are very similar though, which has contributed to a history of a lack of space for individuals who don’t fit unwritten, predetermined standards. It isn’t “oppressive” to ask people to respect your politically correct labels of choice. What’s oppressive is centuries of actual systematic oppression against people based on what they look like, their genetic makeup, the extent of their capabilities, or who they love.

Racism, ableism, homophobia and sexism are still alive and kicking. You don’t need to look further than some parts of our own community to see that. But the battles aren’t won when those extremist views are brought down. A tendency towards normativity persists, even in Marin.

It’s okay if you can’t fully list the whole LGBTQQIA+ acronym, or remember who’s Puerto Rican and who’s Guatemalan and who’s Honduran. What matters is that you respect and make an effort to accommodate people’s desire for labels. It’s going to be hard. But fully realized social progress doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve made it past many tangible milestones, but now it’s time to round these last corners, in part by going along with the intricacies of alphabet soups.