Accessibility in Activist Writing: Persuasive Privilege (Dr. Danielle DeBlock)
Updated: Sep 22
The topic of accessibility in activist writing came up during a recent NEST meeting. In the process of discussing our values and goals around accessibility, we realized that we had to take a step back and address the how. How do we decide which voices to prioritize? Especially in light of the current climate of activism, how does this maintain systems of oppression instead of dismantling them?
Whose Thoughts Are Worthy?
There has long been an expectation that to share thoughts and beliefs around social and/or environmental issues, one must do so in a certain way. This unwritten expectation seems to include being ‘informed’, ‘educated’, and ‘rational’. The presumption is that unless you have some formal education and are completely immersed in the ins and outs of whatever topic is at hand, your thoughts are unworthy of serious regard.
Even as I write this blog, I feel my brain searching for the most appropriate sentence structure and phrases, with the end goal of having my message accepted. This is not to say that we shouldn’t value certain forms of communication, and pay attention to ways in which expressing ourselves is more easily understood. At the same time, we should not discount expressions that fall outside of what has been conventionally expected and accepted.
Exclusionary Standards of Expression
By having a standard of expression, we are narrowing the space for people in the conversation. We are creating an exclusive environment whereby only certain voices are welcome or valued. We are establishing a system of oppression while claiming to dismantle such, and perpetuating the unjust notion that certain people are more important than others.
Not only does this exclusive conversation typically silence the voices of those most impacted by social and environmental injustice, but it also excludes a huge population of privileged individuals who should be engaging in the conversation to become self-aware and start making change. There is a notion of essentially ‘opting out’ because one is not ‘academic’ or ‘informed’.
I have been privy to countless conversations that start and end with “Well I don’t really know enough about it so I just keep quiet and carry on.” By making the conversation more inclusive and tolerant, we not only raise voices of those whose experiences are essential to inform effective change. We also create the opportunity to engage with those who are required to enact effective change.
Are We Really Listening?
If the only voices we listen to and value are those from the ‘informed’, ‘educated’, and ‘rational’, we are not listening at all. It is a pervasive form of privilege we continue to uphold among activist communities supposedly trying to break down the systems which have created this privilege. Instead of trying to make sure we’ve read all the latest articles and followed-up on the most-recent academic outputs, we should be challenging ourselves to seek out voices with no letters behind their names at all.
Diversifying the Dialogue
If we are truly invested in making positive change in our society and breaking down the hierarchies that sustain social and environmental injustice, we need to shift and diversify our dialogue. We need to amplify ‘uninformed’ voices, ‘uneducated’ voices, ‘irrational’ voices’. We need to welcome and celebrate all voices, and let go of our overlooked prejudices which have kept so many out of the conversation.
NEST is here to support members of the naturopathic profession to take action on environmental and social issues that impact the health of people and the planet. Are you concerned about the prevalence of academic-speak in activist writing? Do you want to raise the voices of those who have traditionally been silenced to create positive change?
Follow NEST (Naturopathic Doctors for Environmental and Social Trust) on Instagram and Facebook for updates, check out our website for key resources and articles, or get in touch via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get involved!