"Vape" might have been Oxford Dictionary's 2014 word of the year, but for social justice advocates, it could have easily been the word "gap." In Oregon, we heard about the "achievement gap," the "gender gap," the "coverage gap" and even the "policy and practice gap" of Portland police (when they handcuffed and arrested a nine year-old child). But "gap" is a metaphor, and like all of the metaphors we use to describe complex social phenomena, it evokes a certain way of thinking -- one that often undermines the change we are trying to create.
What do you think of when you think of a gap? We have gaps in teeth, gaps in concrete, gaps in land (e.g. the Cumberland Gap). In our common use of the word, gaps are natural occurrences. They are just there; nobody was involved in putting them there and nobody can take them away. Furthermore, the people on one side of the gap are separate and isolated from the people on the other side of the gap. As Anat Shenker-Osorio says about the "income gap" in her book Don't Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy, "'Gap' isn't a stirring call to action; it's a clothing store...It says nothing about how we got here. It's all outcome and no cause, all what and no why...Using this language, in effect, tacitly degrades individuals and makes current conditions seem natural."
Anat recommends using language that brings people into the picture: barriers, roadblocks, holding people back. Doing so would make it clear that, no, the Portland police don't have a policy and practice "gap," they have people in charge who are failing to adequately train their staff and engage with their community.