Against Equity Language
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In The Atlantic, George Packer argues that one of the many problems with “equity language”—words that supposedly highlight how “everyone is first and foremost a person”—is that it tends to do the opposite. It obscures reality rather than make it more apparent:
The whole tendency of equity language is to blur the contours of hard, often unpleasant facts. This aversion to reality is its main appeal. Once you acquire the vocabulary, it’s actually easier to say people with limited financial resources than the poor. The first rolls off your tongue without interruption, leaves no aftertaste, arouses no emotion. The second is rudely blunt and bitter, and it might make someone angry or sad. Imprecise language is less likely to offend. Good writing—vivid imagery, strong statements—will hurt, because it’s bound to convey painful truths.
Packer goes on to translate a passage from Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a nonfiction work about Mumbai slum dwellers, into equity verbiage. The resulting passage, Packer writes, “doesn’t create more empathy for Sita and her struggles”:
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