Opinion | A Divide Over New Inclusive Language, Even Among Liberals

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To the Editor:

Re “Inclusive or Alienating? The Language Wars Go On,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, Feb. 2):

Mr. Kristof raises a fair point about the dizzying landscape of identity politics and the language we use to describe our intersectional and sometimes malleable senses of self. Indeed, humans are diverse and complex, and our language is reflective of that.

Mr. Kristof dangerously plays right into the hands of the right wing when he says that the evolution of language is fodder for the anti-woke agenda. The hatemongers of the world don’t oppose the language that Americans use to describe our beautifully diverse selves so much as they oppose the people, as evidenced by the attacks on everything from transgender people’s access to health care, Black people’s access to higher education, the right to abortion care and so much else. The war on words is just one way they are hacking at progress.

Mr. Kristof writes of inclusive language, “Instead of a spur to action, it seems a substitute for it.” A focus on inclusive language and doing the work to drive greater equity are not mutually exclusive.

Words matter. When we acknowledge that “the homeless” are actually “human beings who are unhoused,” or that transgender men can give birth, we open up a world in which we can ensure that no one, particularly those most in need, are left out of the solutions that we develop.

Allison H. Kahn
Cos Cob, Conn.
The writer is a diversity, equity and inclusion communications leader.

To the Editor:

Thank you, Mr. Kristof, for highlighting the linguistic gymnastics now used by some organizations in the name of inclusivity. I’ll add Planned Parenthood to the list, with its fund-raising solicitations full of references to “pregnant people.”

I am among those who find it highly offensive when women and girls are stripped of their gender and rendered a collection of reproductive body parts and processes. And if that’s what women and girls are, what are the others called — people who ejaculate, people with prostates?

Some of this borders on the absurd. I agree, there’s got to be a better way to be language-inclusive without insulting 50 percent of the population. Oh, and I am a big-city, blue-state, college-educated liberal … and also a feminist.

Denise Marx

To the Editor:

I was disappointed to read Nicholas Kristof’s column about the so-called language wars. I teach at a university where I’ve seen how inclusive language can help marginalized students feel seen and valued.

This is still a hostile world for trans, Black, Indigenous and Latinx students (yeah, I am part of the small minority of “Hispanics” who say Latinx). Using terms like BIPOC and A.A.P.I. helps students of color feel as if they have a place in state universities that have been historically designed for the white middle class. In fact, it’s often the students themselves who call for the use of more culturally and identity-sensitive language.

I will always remember the trans woman student who stopped me after class to let me know that the phrase “biological sex” felt traumatizing to her and that I should consider saying “assigned male at birth” instead. With her words she let me know how I as her professor could help her to feel safe and supported in my class, despite a society that continues to vilify trans women.

Ana Milena Ribero
Corvallis, Ore.

To the Editor:

I share Nicholas Kristof’s concerns about the ongoing efforts by many progressives to revise common language and am glad that he highlighted the many liberals, like me, who are equally concerned. It is not just people on the right who question the pragmatism and ethics of such efforts.

The term “Latinx” is particularly problematic, not just because it is used by only 3 percent of Hispanics — and is unpronounceable in Spanish — but because it is an attempt by a privileged few in positions of professional, political and cultural power to impose their will against the overwhelming majority, including those whom the term is meant to represent.

This is linguistic colonialism pure and simple.

Mark Bessoudo

Pence’s Effort to Avoiding Testifying About Jan. 6: ‘A Moral Failure’

To the Editor:

Re “Pence to Oppose Federal Subpoena Seeking Testimony in Jan. 6 Inquiry” (news article, Feb. 15):

Former Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to oppose the subpoena from the Justice Department is another indication that he is more interested in protecting his political future than exposing the crimes of Donald Trump.

Arguing that executive privilege or the “speech or debate clause” of the Constitution exempts him from having to answer questions may have some legal standing but reveals a moral failure. Some fear upsetting precedents, but that is a weak position given that so much of the Trump administration destroyed precedents.

Mr. Pence could show some of that Republican respect for law and order by honoring the subpoena and answering questions so Mr. Trump can be held accountable for his words and actions resulting in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Kent Rhodes
Charlotte, N.C.

To the Editor:

This article states: “It is not clear whether or how the Justice Department might argue against Mr. Pence’s effort to invoke the clause in this case” before the grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 riot.

However, to cite just the first among many other ready arguments, the speech or debate clause protects only “senators and representatives” from such inquiries. Mike Pence was neither one.

Roger J. Bernstein
New York
The writer is an attorney.

To the Editor:

Holding public office is a unique and high privilege unlike any private sector job. How dare former Vice President Mike Pence or any other person who received a taxpayer-funded paycheck refuse to answer questions in a legitimate inquiry involving anything they may have seen, heard or done while acting as a public servant.

Richard Dickinson
Richmond Hill, Ga.

When to Impose the Death Penalty

To the Editor:

Re “In Manhattan Bike-Path Trial, Considering Ultimate Punishment” (front page, Feb. 12):

A jury is deciding whether the defendant found guilty of intentionally mowing down eight people with his truck on the West Side bike path in 2017 deserves the federal death penalty. The article’s reference to national polls showing that approximately 60 percent favor life in prison over the death penalty as a general proposition when presented with that choice is the wrong way to ask the question.

The more relevant question to ask is whether this killer, or the white supremacist mass murderer who killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo grocery store, or other heinous murderers deserve the death penalty or should instead be given life in prison, where taxpayers foot the bill for a lifetime of food and health care.

I daresay that the answer to that question would be over 80 percent in favor of the death penalty, a punishment that serves valid principles of retributive justice and general deterrence.

Unfortunately, New York and some states have abolished that option, and despite federal law authorizing capital punishment for federal crimes, President Biden has vowed to abolish capital punishment, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has placed a moratorium on carrying it out.

Paul Kamenar
Chevy Chase, Md.
The writer is counsel to the National Legal and Policy Center.

Biden’s Plans for 2024

To the Editor:

Don’t do it, President Biden. Don’t announce your 2024 plans now.

Be neither a partisan candidate forced to focus on an election more than a year and a half away nor a lame duck struggling to lead in a polarized environment. Build on your successes these past two years; focus on achieving more major accomplishments by appealing to the moderates in both parties.

There will be plenty of time for an announcement this fall.

Michael Emlaw
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Forced Parenthood

To the Editor:

Re “Pitching Benefits for Families, From a Corner of Conservatism” (front page, Feb. 11):

While I appreciate the efforts of some conservatives to do more to support families with children, it is still a travesty that some of these family units will come into being as a result of rape, incest or the restrictive anti-abortion laws these same conservatives champion.

Having a child should be a choice one is allowed to enter into freely and not the result of some legal barrier or unspeakable act.

Michael Scott
San Francisco

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