By: Shannon Ralph
There is an old quote by George Orwell: But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
I thought of this quote as I was reading a recent news story about young people and the use of crude language in social media. According to an Associated Press-MTV survey of 1,355 people nationwide ages 14-24, most young people are not offended by online anti-gay, racist, or sexist slurs. Fifty-one percent of those polled say they see slurs on Facebook and MySpace, but most (57 percent) think it is just “joking around” when their friends use words like “fag” or “slut”. Only around half that number believe people who use slurs hold hateful views. Just a third of the young people polled saw words like “fag” and “slut” as serious offenses. Other popular jabs include “nigger”, “retard”, and “fat”. Young people see the use of these words in their own social circles as acceptable because “I know we do not mean it”.
So what does this say about us as a culture? Is George Orwell right? Is it true that the language we hear on a daily basis can corrupt our thoughts? Corrupt the thoughts of our children? Where are we headed as a nation when it has become acceptable to use anti-gay, racist, and sexist terms as a “joke”? Perhaps these words have no meaning to a young generation growing up enjoying the fruits of the labor of the numerous freedom fighters and activists who came before them. If that is the case, then we need to do a better job of educating our children about the struggles overcome and the road to equality that still lies ahead of us. Our kids should know, in no uncertain terms, that language is powerful. It has the ability to uplift, and the ability to demean. Words should be chosen carefully, even in seemingly anonymous spaces online.
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