You may be reading this and think “oppression? What year does this girl think we’re living in? The 1700s?” But I do not back away from my choice of words. I am being specific. Current events, as well as those in recent history, require that our perception of how we view this moment in history be one that is honest — one that takes into account that regardless of it being 2017, we are still struggling with race and with difference.
I had planned to announce this past weekend a new series that focuses on our language choice when talking about race, difference, and politics. I suppose this post can serve as an introduction to that series.
“Not Who We Are” Edit: Not Who We Want To Be Anymore
I gather much of my news and feedback from watching public television, reading highly-esteemed news articles from largely established, and strongly recognized, journalists — I also read comments made from local community members (and those who enjoy provoking hatred) about events that happen in my community or in other parts of the states. Much of what I read and heard centralized on one repeating point: the events were not reflective of what the united states is — or “not who we are.”
Who is we, here? How can one honestly say this?
I would like to believe that perhaps there was a slip in language — a slip in word choices — and give those who sincerely believe this the benefit of the doubt (because is that not what us minorities are best at?*): “I would like to believe that they meant something el”— who am I kidding. This statement was out of — what I will call — “sincere ignorance”.
I say “sincere ignorance” with the most kindest of intentions, not to insult anyone’s intelligence. “Sincere” for those who truly do want to believe that what happened in Charlottesville is not a reflection of who they are as a person and of how they view the united states — it is for those who sincerely renounce racism and hatred. I say “ignorance”, again, not as an insult of intelligence but as someone who has missed a frame of reference.
I believe that missing frame of reference is unrecognized value in the voices, life experiences, worldview, and perspective of those who have been, and are, oppressed. A source of authority on the word oppression has defined it to mean “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.” Long standing tradition has been that those outside the margins of normal, standard ways of society have been oppressed based on physicality of features and color of skin, religion, economic status, and/or place of familial origin. It is easy to say that the united states is a “melting pot” and toss aside all of that “political correctness shenanigans.” But doing so has created a willful denial of the inherent prejudices that are in existence. Doing so means that you are on the side of the oppressor.
That is not what you mean, right? I do not think that is what you mean.
Language has the power to create and define situations; it has the ability to establish truths and realities; it has the strength to change what is unwanted and to create what is desired. If you truly renounce what has happened in Charlottesville, if this was the needed wake up call that you have been waiting for, then call it what it is. Recognize it, understand it, listen to the voices that have been and are undervalued, and define this moment as one that must change. “Not who we are … anymore.” Anymore.
Edit your choice of words. You must change “not who we are” to “not who we want to be anymore”. What happened on this soil this past weekend, and what happened on this soil from the birth of this nation, is an example of who the united states is. It is within the soul of this nation and it is part of everything that has since been built. Acknowledge, understand, and be the change you want to see — and believe — for your community and for yourself.
There was an informative op-ed piece in The New York Times by Michael Eric Dyson, author of Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America who spoke to Hari Sreenivasan of PBS Newshour, this weekend, regarding the white supremacists who marched with torches on the University of Virginia. Dyson expertly sums up what is most important regarding the historical affiliations of oppression, and speaks of what I call “the missing frame of reference.” Please have a watch — it is less than 4 minutes long, but an imperative four minutes necessary for change.