i dream of being possible

on ~policing~ as metaphor

a little while back i tweeted a little about the use of ‘police” and ‘policing” as metaphors when discussing oppression and whatever.

it was coming off of yet another white opinion about the recent shakeup in white trans woman land where someone was again decrying the language ~police~ (aka them sjws) for not wanting people not part of a group using slurs that target a group they don”t belong to (re: cis men using sh****le and other transmisogynist slurs).

as i was reading this argument for the umpteenth time it suddenly occurred to me that this particlar, metaphorical use of the word ‘police” was very much shitty and indicative of the white ppl who i see most often invoking the concept of language police (to some extent, you can sub ‘white” with other types of privilege, but in this case whiteness is pretty key).

contrast, for a moment, a different metaphorical usage of the word ~police~ often used by oppressed people: tone policing (and maybe identity policing).

one might wonder why one usage is shitty and the other not. and, as with many things, the answer (of course) is about power.

when an oppressed person (particularly if they are iaopoc) invoke ‘identity” or ‘tone” policing, they are talking about (in the first case) community gatekeeping and (in the second case) a common derailing tactic whose foundation lies in respectability politics. this metaphorical use of ‘police” speaks to the violence that our oppressor use to control our actions and restrict our freedom.

but the ~language police~ is a much different thing.

the first thing with this, is that it is a clear derail used by people who want to focus on the more trivial aspect of a thing (ie, the specific word used and the fact that they shouldn”t be using it) instead of the critical aspect (eg, the harm and damage that certain words can inflict and their symbolic representation for an entire set of attitudes, practices, and institutions designed to dehumanize and oppress).

the second thing is, and this is where it gets gross, is that it has the effect of equating the oppressed with our oppressors (the police). this usage insists that asking people to remove a handful of hateful words from their vocabulary is equivalent to very real and daily violence that the actual police inflict on communities of colour (and, if we are talking about the US, this is very much about Black communities and the violence they experience from the police).

it very much trivializes the notion of policing and the impacts that it has (both real and metaphorical), since the other major difference from the usages here is that something like identity policing (and the gatekeeping it necessarily entails) is that it is often people with relative privilege wielding institutional/systemic power against people more marginalized against them, with frequently disasterous results.

but what happens to the people who usually cry about language policing as a result of this policing?

they (at worst and only if they actually comply) have a few less words in their vocabulary.