I have spent the last two years trying to read literature and articles and arguments trying to be better informed about issues around language and marginalization, to use preferred terms of communities I am not a part of. I don’t want my words to do harm, so I’ve gone out of my way to learn how to talk about communities of color, LGTBQ folks, and other marginalized identities I do not share. My desire is not only not to be offensive, but to understand my relationship to these communities of people and how I can be an advocate instead of someone who silences marginalized people or contributes to erasing their experience and presence from our wider culture.
I have not arrived at some mysterious destination of acceptance, tolerance, justice or inclusion. I don’t know if there is any such act of arrival – I am trying to do better, moving forward, educating myself, and listening to the voices of people who are oppressed. Maybe, that is an arrival of sorts, a softening to other people and their experiences, a desire for equality, a better understanding, standing up and sitting down when appropriate.
As I do my best to be respectful in the ways I talk about other communities, I’ve noticed a lack of respect in the way people speak about mine. I have paranoid schizophrenia and for the past year (during the 2016 campaign and past the election) I have seen the hard work of mental health advocates begin to unwind especially in regards to schizophrenia. On social media, almost on a daily basis, someone will mention Trump or his followers wearing tinfoil hats. Tinfoil hats are a stereotypical “joke” that people tell about those people worried about being recorded by the government or aliens –generally, symptoms experienced by people with some type of paranoid disorder. It is not uncommon to hear news broadcasters say that Trump is delusional, or acting deranged or like a lunatic.
Wherever I turn, I read, and hear derogatory and disparaging remarks about Trump’s mental health. People who are normally concerned about the language they use, and the way their language can harm and oppress marginalized groups, are the ones calling the President “crazy” or saying that the White House has become an “asylum.” All of these comments perpetuate stereotypes and increase stigma.
I am just as surprised and dismayed by Trump as anyone else. I don’t know what to make of his lies, or conspiracy theories, or the many times he says something is one way when we can see with our own eyes it is something entirely different – like saying there were more people at his inauguration than Obama’s even though the pictures proved the opposite. I don’t know how to talk about these things. I am in uncharted territory along with the rest of America and the world. However, I think it is worth thinking about our language and how we are tearing down years of progress towards the acceptance and stigma reduction of mental illness. Do we want to sacrifice a whole group of marginalized people just to have a way to show our confusion, and dismay at one man? I say, we challenge ourselves to do better.
We have never seen the likes of Donald Trump in American politics, and we need a new language to talk about him, one that doesn’t sacrifice a group of people who have already paid dearly in increased stigma because of his words, actions, and Tweets.
Photo by DHuiz