One of the new buzzwords in political criticism right now is “ignorant”. We use it to describe people who hold bigoted opinions, typically holdovers from when those opinions were widely accepted beliefs. But how actually ignorant are these people?
Ignorance is defined as a “lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.” When people have not been educated on topics, then they are ignorant. Your grandfather who’s never met a gay person and thinks they’re all horrible people anyways? Ignorant. Your friend who is unaware that r*tarded is a slur? Ignorant. Your aunt who thinks not vaccinating her children is a good idea because chemicals? Ignorant. People who have been called out on their remarks, have refused to apologize, have been provided more information and have still stood by their views? Not ignorant.
When we use the word ignorant to describe people, we give them a little bit of a pass on the views they’ve held. We say “What they’ve expressed in the past is due to their lack of awareness.” By calling someone out on ignorance, we also take on some responsibility to educate these people, to attempt to remove their ignorance. If you have provided them with more information and they do not offer up their own evidence or apologize, they lose the protection of that label.
To hold people more accountable to their remarks, we have to start by not excusing them with a word that does not even apply to them. Using the word ignorant to describe people who aren’t weakens it, making it harder to use when it does apply. We must understand that there are people who are ignorant, who have never been taught better or educated. But when we apply that word to every one who holds bigoted beliefs, it provides them a defense that they don’t deserve. And in order to make sure people are held to their words, we have to make sure we’re using the right one.