When I was younger, I had a magician’s deck of cards that was “marked” and “stripped.” A “marked” deck is one that seems to have standard patterns on the back but, in fact, has subtle differences that tell the magician what each card is without turning it over. A “stripped” deck is one where the cards are narrower at one end so the magician can pick out an inverted card simply by feel. A magician’s deck can easily be used to cheat an unsuspecting person, so a losing gambler is wise from time to time to request a new deck.

In the same way that a marked deck stacks the game, language can develop in ways that reinforce the hierarchies of a culture. Sexist language, for example, stacks the deck toward men. Every form of prejudice adopts its own vocabulary which may be completely unconscious to the person speaking. The loaded vocabulary will just feel more comfortable and proper to someone who reaps the rewards of that particular prejudice.

Anyone truly interested in working for justice must be willing to adapt a new way of talking about human beings that does not privilege some and disadvantage others. Inclusive language is awkward and can seem very silly to those who benefit from the hierarchy, but our language is a decisive battleground in the battle to be fair. Speech is the gateway to the mind.  If we do not purge our speech of prejudiced terms, those prejudiced words will become prejudiced thoughts. Our prejudiced thoughts will eventually become an unconscious lens through which we view the world. We must stop prejudice at its source which, for many, is the loaded words of our culture.

The wise do not trust themselves to be fair but, instead, remove those cards from the deck which seem to be “marked” or “stripped” by the culture. Anyone interested in justice must purge loaded words entirely from our speech, or else we may believe we are working for fairness, but are actually playing with a magician’s deck.