Words matter

I swear I did not want to write anymore posts associated in anyway with the online blitz No Wedding, No Womb. At this point it seems to me it was a good idea that went terribly wrong, make no mistake there is some work that needs to be done in the Black community, yet I am not sure an online campaign is the most effective way to affect the change that the organizers and many involved want.

However last night while relaxing with a glass of wine and chilling on Twitter, I ran across a blog post that was tweeted by the NWNW organizer and my blood pressure shot up. Frankly in the last two weeks since this campaign has started I have read many things that made me shake my head but as someone who goes online to relax, I have kept my thoughts to myself. This post was just over the top but it made me think about something few people ever truly want to talk about and that is that words matter. The words you choose to speak or write are powerful.

If there is any doubt to the power of words ask anyone who has suffered abuse, physical abuse is horrible yet in most cases the physical pain goes away. However to anyone who has ever been verbally abused, the words never quite go away, they live in continuous loop in the back of our minds coming out at low points to remind us that we aren’t shit, etc. It can take years to erase negative words that dehumanize us…I know because I have been there personally and I have seen it with the families and youth I work with. Tell someone they are a little shithead and watch how they grow. If there are no positive words going in, eventually that little shithead becomes a shithead.

I realize that many that read this blog are not Christian but as a Christian myself I have always been struck by the fact that even the bible addresses the power of our words. In the book of James Chapter 3 there are many verses that attest to the power of the tongue. Verse 6, and the tongue is a fire, a world of inequity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. Verses 8 and 9 read “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God”. This Chapter goes on talking about what the tongue can do. Yikes, the potential to do damage is great when we do not mind our words.

Which going back to this campaign to address the issue of out of wedlock births in the Black community, how is it effective if we use language that tears people down? Referring to children as bastards and illegitimate? Yes, once upon a time a few decades ago such language may have been the norm but it’s not anymore. Once upon a time it was kosher for white folks to call Black folks nigger but most white folks understand that in 2010 if you call a Black person a nigger it will be bad for your chances of long term survival. The only white folks that walk around calling Black folks niggers these days are ones that wish to dehumanize Black folks. Even those white folks don’t walk around yelling it in areas filled with Black folks because they understand it’s not socially acceptable. And in most cases they have a strong survival instinct to boot!

To help people we must understand where they are coming from, in my line of work I have seen what happens when well meaning ill informed folks pop into volunteer and it’s not pretty. To be frank it creates more drama than the so called help gives. That’s what I feel is going on when we have groups of Black women calling other Black women lower class and hoodrats. By the same token it’s no good when we start having to go below the belt and using words such as bitch, cunt, and sell-out and so on.

Language is often used to dehumanize people, I imagine that while my ancestors hundreds of years ago were dragged to this country in shackles and didn’t know what was being said about them, its safe to say they could figure out it was not good. I know many will discount what I just said after all that was so long ago, but I still believe there are pockets of the Black community still impacted by the scars from so long ago and yes language mattered then as it does now.

However the issue of language being used to dehumanize others goes far beyond Black women and our struggles. It seems that bullying of our youth is on the rise, when I was a kid you got bullied at school but at least you got to go home and catch a break. Now thanks to the advent of social media, kids can be tormenting at home as well as at school, at school a kid may be facing physical threats but when a kid is bullied in cyber space that kid is being abused with words. Carelessly tossed around words have created situations where we are seeing kids some not even in junior high school taking their own lives.

Words and the way we choose to use them hold power and if we use our words for the collective well being of all we have the ability to affect change on a grand scale yet when we use words for our own personal gain we do so on the backs and psyches of others. So as we start a new week, I challenge you to be mindful of the words you are using.

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