“Implications” and the Rhetorical Framing of Critiques – Hidden Power of Words Series, #30

Suggestions that something is classist, racist, or sexist, for example, are often met with dismissively hostile words. People say, “you’re thinking too hard,” “you’re looking to cause trouble,” “you can find [fill in the blank] anywhere if you look hard enough,” “you can’t appreciate anything,” and/or “you’re ignoring the purpose.”

I strive to improve how I communicate my thoughts, with the goal here being broader acceptance of how pervasive oppression is. While teaching this week, it fully occurred to me that a slight rhetorical reframing might help achieve my goal.

Instead of: “This is racist,” such as when talking about the fake legs dragging on the ground behind the truck or the viral Olive Garden post of a Black woman feeding a White babyI could say, “This has implications that are racist.”

The use of and placement of “implications” is important.

“Implication”–a theoretically-informed concept here–acknowledges both cause/effect and various interpretations, while delivering the same core message. “Implications” also softens the message: Our society does not embrace those who critique because listeners feel personally attacked. I also think the above phrasing might promote engagement more than the concise “this has racist implications.” Strong words–“classist,” “racist,” and “sexist”–can scare people, especially privileged people.

This is not to suggest that advocates of freedom and liberation should cater to oppressors. On the contrary, victims have enough to worry about and often lack sufficient spoons (see, Spoon theory). And yet, remembering Dr. bell hooks’s arguments about how every one is a victim of Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist (Heteronormative Ableist) Patriarchal mores helps me have sympathy for those who actively and aggressively perpetuate privilege: I am more than willing to rethink my presentation, if I think positive impacts might follow.

Instead of critiquing the next text you encounter, consider its various implications and how these vary to different peoples and times.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda