Speaking the Language
using words well, carefully and respectfully
Since the killing of George Floyd, millions of words have been written and spoken in response. So often, however, we speak past one another because we do not have common understandings of words. I hope to shed some light on the conversations by offering definitions of some important words. These definitions come from the Racial Equity Tools Glossary at https://www.racialequitytools.org/glossary#racism. The italicized commentary is my own.
Racism = race prejudice + social and institutional power
Racism = a system of advantage and advantage based on race
Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.
Note that racism is not hating people or using hurtful words. That’s bigotry. Racism is a cultural/economic/legal/social SYSTEM that privileges some and oppresses others. It is not enough to be unbigoted; we have to dismantle systematic and structural racism.
Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. [There is much more to this. Read more at the website above.]
White people are not immoral or guilty for having white privilege. Privilege just IS. But we can learn to become aware of our privilege. We can speak less and listen more. We can seek to learn what life is like for people different from ourselves. The more we deny having privilege, the more we are exercising privilege.
Black Lives Matter
A political movement to address systemic and state violence against African Americans. “In 2013, three Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter. It was in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. The project is now a member-led global network. . . [Black Lives Matter] members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
It is terribly important to understand that Black Lives Matter does NOT imply that other lives don’t matter. Black people are often and systematically treated as though their lives do not matter. This movement powerfully asserts that those lives DO matter. To insist on saying, “All Lives Matter” disregards the ways in which Black people are oppressed.
Let’s continue the conversation, using words well, carefully and respectfully.