The Associated Press has announced it’s new style book will eliminate the terms “homophobia,” Islamophobia” and “Ethnic cleansing.”
We sometimes forget that most print media belongs to the rich and powerful elite. If the press does not consciously choose to speak for the voiceless, it will be the most powerful weapon in silencing them. Terms like “anti-Semitism” were once resisted as inaccurate. It was claimed that not all semites are Jewish. When editors hold the suffix “phobic” to the same standards as the clinical diagnosis “phobia,” they have made it more difficult to talk about the fear some in our culture feel toward Muslims and people who are gay or lesbian.
One good way to maintain oppression is to render the justice claims of the “other” unspeakable or to deem them poor grammar.
AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico that the term (homophobic) is “just off the mark” and “seems inaccurate… “We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing.”
The AP, whose guidelines set news industry standards, defines phobia as an “irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness.” But the “mental illness” part is surely too literal—no one accuses arachnophobes of needing an asylum. The term homophobia was first used in the 1960s when psychologists began to notice how vehement their own colleagues’ reactions were to gay people—far more irrational, it seemed, than feelings around other outsider groups. “They had no argument, just repugnance,” says George Weinberg, a clinical psychologist who popularized the term in a 1972 book and opposes the AP’s move to drop the word. “They felt this way even about their own children. I realized this thing is deeply emotional and is based on fear.” As Weinberg and others used it, the term meant a dread or fear of close contact with gay people and a strong discomfort with homosexuality.
When people in power say they want to be “balanced” or “neutral” it also means they are either unaware of, or don’t want to talk about, discrepancies of power hidden in the culture. They are unaware of, or don’t want to talk about the fact, that that cultures adopt vocabularies that reinforce power hierarchies.
Perhaps the most horrifying change will be eliminating the term “ethnic cleansing” which can be a practice very hard to identify when it is happening slowly and systematically.
“When you break down ‘ethnic cleansing,’ it’s a cover for terrible violent activities. It’s a term we certainly don’t want to propagate,” -Minthorn
What a shame the AP is more concerned with not propagate the term “ethnic cleansing” than with not propagating its practice.