Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Last year brought a call for racial justice across the country that hasn’t been seen in years. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, many organizations started taking steps to reevaluate their companies and join the fight for racial justice. Land O’Lakes replaced its logo of an Indigenous woman with a peaceful landscape, Aunt Jemima stepped away from its name and caricature of a Black woman, and even here at MCIE we began to prioritize conversations about racial oppression by participating in thought-provoking book studies and staff discussions.
One of the biggest changes that’s been on many people’s minds as the spring weather hits and the promise of actually being able to attend games comes to fruition has to do with baseball.
These name changes may have been sparked by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, but they come after many years of people protesting the names and calling out the teams for their negative portrayals of Native Americans. So, although this is an obvious step in the right direction, it can be frustrating that it took this long (especially since it comes only after there was the threat for them to lose money and sponsors) and that other teams are still lagging behind.
However, pro teams are not the only ones that use racial slurs for sports. Universities and schools across the country use similar names, mascots, costumes, and cheers like the tomahawk chop. And while many states have taken steps to ban the usage of racist motifs for sports teams, there’s still an overwhelming number of schools that continue.
When we say we are advocates of inclusion, we are saying that we want all students in our neighborhood schools to feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging. And we mean all students. Inclusion doesn’t stop with our students with disabilities. We need to consider creating inclusive, welcoming environments for students of all identities, including students of color.
The changes we are seeing in our society, or lack thereof, show the extreme power in the language we use. Language isn’t merely small talk or words on a page. Language is proven to have the power to influence our perceptions of the world around us, so we need to use it carefully and cautiously.
When we allow racial slurs to be part of our vocabulary – and to be regularly represented in the sports teams we cheer for – we are saying it’s okay to use offensive language and are perpetuating racist stereotypes.
Similarly, when we allow words related to ability that the disability community has condemned to exist in our everyday life, we are belittling the community and continuing the stereotype that people with disabilities are lesser.
For instance, the disability community has been saying for a long time that the term “special needs” is offensive and has instead proudly adopted the word “disability.”
One reason for this is that “special needs” implies people with disabilities have different needs and different rights than others, which simply isn’t true. For another reason, disability is the proper legal term used in the Americans with Disabilites Act and the Individuals with Disabilites Education Act.
On top of all that, when people refer to students as “special needs students,” they are often implying that they believe students with disabilities should be segregated from their peers in a “special” environment because they need “special” classes.
This can be particularly harmful because the language we use in schools is especially powerful. Whenever we say something, we are sending the message to children that it’s okay to say, think, and do those things.
But we don’t want to send the message that anyone needs to be in a special place just because they are different. Every child deserves to receive a quality education among their peers no matter race, gender, socioeconomic status, or ability.
My favorite superhero always says, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and that phrase perfectly applies to this situation. If we have the power to affect the world around us merely with the words we use, then we have the responsibility to use the correct language that sends positive messages about diversity.
Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.