Friday, October 14, 2016


I've noticed a couple of often used maneuvers that seem to serve to assist in keeping oppressive structures and conceptualizings in place. These doings can take place in situations which are not involved in oppressive activities...but...they sure seem to show up too often to be accidental anytime oppression is in play.

One of them (ahistorical) is stripping away the historical knowledge and events as they occurred over time in regard to concepts, things, words and even living beings. After this omitting...the de-historicized concept, thing, word or living being can then thought about or written about or interacted with in ways that can serve the function of oppression much more easily (and misleadingly) than if that lost or hidden historical information is taken into account or considered. One of the results of losing or hiding history is that mystification of the phenomena (words, things, concepts or living beings) is much more readily achieved.

In other's real easy to get real stupid (or engage in oppression) real fast when dealing with concepts, things, words or living beings if we hide or "forget" their history.

Another thing I've seen in my adventures in learning about some of the "isms" of oppression is how often the maneuvers associated with injustice engage in stripping away the context associated with concepts, things, words or living beings. A snazzy word that's used to identify that operation is decontextualize.

Part of how I think about the difference between "ahistorical" and "decontextualize" is that the first word (ahistorical) generally refers to the origins and evolution (change over time) of concepts, things, words or living beings, while the second word (decontextualize) more often refers to current or near current circumstances.

Since I've presented several links in this post to dictionaries...then dictionaries might serve as a useful example of the way in which power can be invisibly enacted via use of the handy dandy tool of stripping knowledge about the history from something.

Think about this...who do you think creates and maintains English language dictionaries (both now and in the past)? Is it men or is it women or is it a combination of equally shared power and control between men and women? Do members of marginalized groups of peoples have any input into these dictionaries or is it only white men and/or white women? (not to mention even whether any Earthlings besides humans have any input into those dictionaries)

While you're thinking about that, I'll go on and note that Julia Penelope, in her cool little book titled "Speaking Freely: Unlearning the lies of the father's tongues" tells us (p. 217) that one researcher...when looking into the compilation of "authoritative sources" that English language dictionary editors used...only those sources created by "anglo men" were consulted while works from women or other marginalized peoples were ignored and not used. Hmmm... (I wrote a little about Ms. Penelope and language in a post last year)

That tells us that, for we who use the English language, even the words and the meanings of words that are used to communicate and think are pretty much controlled by white men. Hmmm... How many of you were familiar with that little bit of context and history? See what I mean about how nifty those tools of ahistorizing and decontextualizing are for making (potentially) relevant information invisible?

But hey, as we all know, white men wouldn't ever engage in oppression or such detestable activities if they have power...right? White people (especially white men) pretty much always behave in fair and socially just ways, right?

By the way, some feminist scholars caught onto some of the problematical aspects associated with English dictionaries and created A Feminist Dictionary that, according to the Wikipedia entry, has: "...the intent of “forcing us to consider who assembles the dictionaries usually consulted and to ask how the words have been chosen.""

Ahistoricizing and decontextualizing...good stuff to know about if you're concerned with the maneuvers of oppression. 


Have Gone Vegan said...

Whenever someone asks me to name my favourite book, I always say dictionary. But yes, just as research can almost never be truly objective (just deciding what question to ask throws that out the window), dictionaries by default reflect the biases and prejudices of the folk putting them together.

You mentioned A Feminist Dictionary, so I took my 1985 copy off of the shelf (if I remember correctly I bought it at the Toronto Women's Bookstore, which sadly closed in 2012), opened it at random and here's the first thing I saw:

CIVIL RIGHTS A term which "could never adequately express black people's revolutionary goals, because it could never adequately describe our longings and our dreams, or those of the nonblack people who stood among us. And because, as a term, it it totally lacking in color... Older black country people did their best to instill what accurate poetry they could into this essentially white civil servants' term... by saying the words with a comprehending passion, irony, and insight, so that what one heard was 'Silver writes.'" (Alice Walker 1983, 336)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. How cool that you have a copy of A Feminist Dictionary. Excellent!

And...thank you for sharing that great definition from it.