Otherwise titled: Hate Speech and White Men
Words are very important to me and not just because I’m a writer. In my professional life, I’m a counselor. This means I have opportunity to work with some amazingly gifted and often tremendously broken people. Folks who have been ostracized, marginalized, excluded, harassed, misunderstood and exploited.
In this sort of environment, non-violent communication that is also inclusive and empowering is essential. I’m really grateful that I’ve gotten to learn and speak this language, and now I hear it–or rather the lack of it–wherever I go.
Sometimes there’s this funny thing that happens, and by funny I mean ridiculous, disturbing and really sad. Individuals complain about how their speech is restricted by what’s “PC.” Or they mourn the changing times and how, “Now there’s hate speech.” Or they’ll feel sad because political movements that work to ensure minority peoples get their share of work opportunities infringe upon their own career opportunities. They’ll reminisce on the good ol’ days where they could say whatever they wanted, call anyone anything they wanted, and have everything their privileged status said they should get.
These conversations have always been with straight white cisgendered males.
People with all the privileges.
People who will never know a barrier or closed door or a missed opportunity, unless they legitimately lack any talent or skill.
People who will be primarily judged based on their skills and personality while their race and gender and relational style never raise an eyebrow, much less a problem.
Some of the people I’ve met in these privileged positions don’t seem to understand why they need to be careful with their speech. A few reasons I present to them are the following:
1. When you have privilege, you have powerful presence. Everything you say and do is magnified, making it extra potent, extra cutting. Privileged people move through the world like elephants in the jungle underbrush. Very little truly impacts or impedes them, but everything else has to accommodate them, or else be crushed. This power could be used very productively, to raise awareness, support, advocacy, etc. Or this power could be ignored and used very carelessly to hurt people or to at least perpetuate systems that routinely oppress people.
2. Words are the seeds of thoughts, and thoughts have consequences. Once upon a time, words led to ideas led to actions that led to the Holocaust. In school today, words like casual insults and derogatory terms thrown at LGBTQ youth go unchallenged and turn to harsher, more cutting words that lead to bullying and beating and sometimes even deaths. All this often starts with unchallenged ideas spoken of casually and mindlessly, often in humor. What we allow to go unchecked in our jokes becomes the actions unregulated on the streets.
So then words that are non-violent, inclusive and compassionate become really important. What if instead of making fun of our neighbor for the skin or gender or who they choose as a partner we spoke words like, “Love your neighbor.” “The greatest of these is love.” “That person is made in the Image of God.”
What if we planted idea seeds with these kinds of words?
3. The language we use colors the space around us in which our community is built. If we want to create a community where people are enriched and built up, we have to speak well about them. This doesn’t mean never confronting people about things, but it does mean speaking well about them, speaking of their strengths, speaking of their worth as a Human. In a community space where a person’s worth is unquestioned, any sort of healing can happen. In a community space where a person’s worth is never certain, there can be no healing.
So then, to my straight white cisgendered friends, please watch your language. More than that, please watch out for your neighbor, even the ones who live differently than you.