As a professional in conflict resolution, as a student of history, and as an educator, I think the connections between language and violence are incredibly salient. I want my kids to understand that language--language the dehumanizes and demeans and stereotypes--is linked to all kinds of "real" violence, including rape, assult, even genocide.
With a little help from Youtube.com, I had Oprah "visit" class today, featuring part of the town hall she hosted after Don Imus referred to the women of the Rutgers basketball team as "nappy headed hos". I dislike even typing the words, but there they are. We watched several clips featuring different perspectives on hip hop, race, treatment of women in our sexist culture. My kids overwhelmingly agreed that language can be violent, sometimes even worse than physical violence. Yet when it came to connecting that with the language Imus used--and the language that hip hop, rock and roll, movies, use to define and lable women, but especially women of color. I was amazed to hear some of the students (and a couple of staff! yikes!) suggest that Imus's comments didn't make sense because there were white women on the team. I was saddened but frankly not amazed to hear that especially many of my male students felt that that language was OK for women who shake what they've got on videos (but not all women, they hastened to add--only the actual hos). I opened the floor for discussion, but of course had my say as well. Wanting them to understand the connections between those attitudes and staggering rates of domestic violence and rape in this country, I mentioned the actual case of a judge turning over the conviction of a man who had raped a young girl. I believe the victim was 7; she might have been 10. Either way, the judge overturned the conviction because the girl was "dressed provocatively".
The problem we have in this culture is far larger than Snoop or Nelly or any of the others. We have a culture that finds it OK, even admirable and funny, to belittle and dehumanize. And ultimately, such language is precisely what legitimizes violence.