True Crime Podcasts Are Rewriting The Narrative Of Victimization

I, like many people, am a huge fan of the true crime and comedy podcast called My Favorite Murder. It’s hosted by two amazingly funny women, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, and they tell really horrific stories about different murders that have happened all around the world.

What’s really unique about the way they discuss these crimes is how they discuss the victims. Instead of mirroring the tone of most media sources when discussing crime, using derogatory language against the women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ community, they discuss them as people.

Karen and Georgia emphasize how these victims deserve life like anyone else. Instead of calling someone a ‘prostitute’, they call them a ‘sex-worker’. They are very careful to talk about who the victim was outside of the crime and to emphasize their importance in the world.

They have taken the victim narrative, the one where the crime is the victim’s fault, and completely turned it around.

While I was watching this week’s material where Karma Chavez discussed how many Black members of the LGBTQ+ community were demonized by the AIDS epidemic, I couldn’t help but think about how Karen and Georgia would discuss the stories Chavez told. It would have mirrored the justice that Chavez gave to those victims.

Karen and Georgia were some of the first true crime podcasters to take this new stance on crime, but they absolutely aren’t the last.

The podcast And That’s Why We Drink with Em Shultz and Christine Scheifer focuses on haunted places and true crime. Em and Christine have taken the same mentality as Georgia and Karen, but they have also focused a lot on the importance of honoring someone’s gender identity. They take extra steps to ensure that they are using someone’s correct pronouns, and continually remind their audience of the importance of respecting pronouns.

Something Was Wrong is a podcast that allows victims to tell stories themselves, with the host, Tiffany Reese, giving the speakers a compassionate, safe place to speak. She joins them in their pain and offers constant reassurance.

One key thing here is that all of these podcasters listen to their audiences, they listen and adjust. If they say something problematic, they hear the voices of their fans and they immediately apologize and continue onward, bettering themselves and their shows.

This wave of understanding and respect seems to be an entirely new thing. As Chavez discussed, the way the victims of the AIDS epidemic were talked about in the media was dehumanizing and delegitimizing.

It’s like a breath of fresh air. By now, I’m so used to hearing victims being respected by their storytellers that it catches me off guard when I hear the bigoted, disrespectful way people or news sources still discuss victims.

Hearing all of these women empowering traditionally disenfranchised groups has really given me a glimpse into what the would could be. It’s given me the scope to be able to spot misogyny, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and more that was hidden just below the surface of our society.

And I think that the more people who listen to rhetoric like theirs, the better the world is going to be. Because they’re setting an amazing example of how to listen, how to respect, and how to become better people.

Something Needs to Change In Regard to How Literacy is Taught in U.S. Schools

Kirkland & Johnson’s article “‘We Real Cool’: Toward a Theory of Black Masculine Literacies” about the literacy practices of Black young men was simply fascinating.

The line on page 294, “To this point, Young (2004) has described Black male uniqueness as characterized through “a difference between Black boys and white boys”. For him, “Black boys not only feel coerced to give up their masculinity if they do well in school, but they also feel forced to abandon their race” (p. 700). This pressure that young Black men face to choose between a mainstream and fringe world, between race and educational rights, we argue, is the force motivating Black masculine literacies–literacy as practiced by the cool kids” really impacted me, I had to go back and read it over and over to really let that sink in.

A blog post released on March 1st explained functional illiteracy and how it affects people in their day-to-day lives.

I think that in the context of the Kirkland & Johnson article, that post is especially relevant. In our society, the ability to read and write is how our worth as humans is judged. And as I discussed in my past blog post about how literacy is used as a way to disadvantage minority groups, functional illiteracy is a huge factor in inner-city Black male lives.

And as Kirkland & Johnson show, a counter-culture has risen around literacy among young Black men. It has become a sort-of villain, a way for “The Man” to force them into a racist, unjust society. So in rebellion to “The Man”, young Black men have found themselves exploring literacy through clothing, music, and speech.

For speech specifically, African American Language (AAL) is an academically recognized dialect of English, yet it is seen by a lot of people as a way to determine someone’s education level. And I think that truth speaks to how our education system (de)values AAL speakers, specifically Black children/young adults.

There is a documentary series called “Talking Black in America” that I watched in my Folklore class, and it does a fantastic job of diving into Black speak and how it represents the broader Black culture in the US. One part of it, linked here, discusses how rap is a highly prized artistic expression of AAL within the Black community.

Kirkland & Johnson express in their piece that young Black men don’t reject literacy, they reject it’s traditional form. Literacy is found all over their culture, but that culture is a uniquely Black culture.

And in my opinion, it has been warped by a lot of people and media to portray Black literacy in negative light.

Something needs to change. I do believe that the U.S. education system values Standard American English above all other forms of English and systematically devalues other forms of English. The School-To-Prison pipeline is very real, and I think it at least partially a consequence of how we view SAE.

And I think that the conversation about how to adjust the school system is pretty overrun by people who don’t actually know much about other cultures.

So, something needs to change, and that change needs to begin with listening to the voices of other cultures in this country. We need to listen to people who have grown up in inner-city schools, and figure out how to connect with those children in a meaningful, impactful way.

Likewise, we need to give these children a voice and let them join the discussion in how to make a classroom more inviting and influential.

It is time to listen to what causes these problems, and make sure everyone is heard.


Being a Good Reader Doesn’t Make You Better

As someone who prides themselves on being a “good” reader, (as in, being able to quickly read and digest anything of written variety) I am here to tell both myself and everyone else who thinks they’re a good reader, I’m sorry. But we are not any better than those who are not.

I say this not in terms of scientific evidence, but instead in terms of cultural norms. As a child, I was told that I was extremely smart (and therefore, superior) because I always had my nose buried in a book. This gave me a sort-of complex.

I think we all have some of this complex. I mean, we’ve all laughed at places with misspelled signs.

I mean… who wouldn’t find this funny?

But I would like to point out that in this humor, we are looking down upon the person who wrote the sign and the business that flaunts it.

In the Goody & Watts article, “The Consequences of Literacy”, they wrote, “China, therefore, stands as an extreme example of how, when a virtually non-phonetic system of writing becomes sufficiently developed to express a large number of meanings explicitly, only a small and specially trained professional group in the total society can master it, and partake of the literate culture” (313).

I’d like to extend on what they were saying… All literate societies do this. The better one can read and write, the more esteemed they are in the culture. And the worse one is at reading and writing, the less important their life (or business) is.

Think of how we view people with high school diplomas versus people with PhD’s. And oh, man. Think about how we view people without a high school diploma.

This establishes a sort of caste system of human worth among the participants in each literate culture. In America, we value individuals with higher education way more than we do those who “work at McDonalds”.

There is a fatal flaw in this, one much more damming than figuring out that being a good reader does not make you better.

We have used this cultural expectation as a way to exploit impoverished and minority groups. 

As discussed in “The Right to be Literate: Literacy, Education, and the School-To-Prison Pipeline” by Winn, et al., “Childhood poverty, the lack of early childhood education, and the denial of a college-preparatory K-12 education promoting critical literacies have contributed to producing what has been referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline” (148).

The school-to-prison pipeline is a very disturbing truth about lower-income areas and how children are systemically pushed out of schools and into prisons, successfully ruining their chances at getting out of poverty.

It is something that will occupy a very separate blog post. But what I need you to know is that the people who “work at McDonalds” are people too. They are, in fact, just as much of a person as your general physician.

We need to be aware of how our own biases, such as believing that our literacy makes us superior humans, is a part of a system that is used to discriminate against minority groups.

So, basically, I hate to break it to you. But your ability to read Stephen King’s It in one week does not make you any better than someone who could never read the book at all. The movie was quite a good adaptation, and they can get everything they need to know from there.

Change starts small. I beg you all to be aware of your own biases and how they contribute to the world around you. So that maybe one day, we can live in an equal and just world.

It’s Time to Forget about the Prescriptivist Approach to Grammar

According to EnglishClub, grammar is “the structure and system of a language, or of languages in general, usually considered to consist of syntax and morphology”.

And within that realm, the prescriptivist approach to grammar is the belief that there are correct and incorrect ways to use grammar, the correct version being inherently superior. This has been used countless times with Standard American English, which is the way that the “American” accent is supposed to sound. If you would like an example, I immediately think of the way that newscasters speak.

The problem here is that in the prescriptivist approach, it is easy to use language, both of the written and verbal variety, as a way to invalidate someone’s argument or intelligence level.

We’re all seen Facebook or Twitter fights where someone makes an argument, and then someone else refutes their argument by simply correcting their usage of “their” or “your”. Even in 2010, when the Grabill study was conducted, they found that first year college students ranked instant messaging, commenting on status updates or posts, and status message updates within the top 10 of their most common writing outlets (5).

It’s possible that some of us or our peers have used this prescriptivist approach to grammar as a way to refute someone else’s arguments online.

I know that I have. If I’m being honest, I did think that grammar was a valid way to argue with someone. But now I know better.

In doing this, I was using grammar as a weapon against others as a way to completely discount their argument. I invalidated people based on their education, instead of their points.

I’m here to say that it is 2021 and things need to change. It is time for all of us to approach grammar descriptively. According to ThoughtCo., “Descriptivism involves observing and analyzing, without passing too much judgment, the habits and practices within speech communities, focusing on language users and uses without attempting to get them to modify their language according to standards external to the language itself”.

Essentially, we need to view the way people write and speak through the lens of empathy. Instead of judging someone’s incorrect usage of “I” or “me”, we should take in their message.

Feel free to argue with someone online, but avoid using grammar as one of your weapons. As a society, we need to be better, and I think this would be a huge step forward.