I have been thinking a lot about language. The words we choose. The words we don’t know. What we read and what is shoved down our throats. I have been thinking about how language serves us? How do the words we use empower us? And how words fail us when we don’t know how to name feelings or thoughts or actions, leaving us feeling powerless.
I know in the past, recent past, that I have struggled, been frustrated and been angry because words have failed me. I haven’t understood what I was feeling or experiencing and the lack of language to help me understand wasn’t there either.
I am talking specifically about words like: white fragility, supremacy, white supremacist terrorism, boundaries, tone policing, gaslighting, silencing, white saviourism, intersectionality, decolonisation and the list goes on.
These words have empowered me. I never had words for the things I saw, heard and felt uncomfortable about until very recently.
Recalling the time that my history teacher, Mrs Powell, made my whole class (including black kids) lay on the floor of our tiny classroom when we were studying the industrial revolution in order to somehow invoke empathy for the black slaves who were piled together in the ships, made me feel gross…it makes me feel gross. I didn’t understand why we were doing it, there was no context. Most people giggled because we were teenagers and didn’t want to lay on the dusty, marled, rough carpet. What a way to diminish slavery eh?
There are countless other memories that led me to always disliking and mistrusting the history we were taught; I never understood the context. They never taught the consequences of the wars they glorified. It wasn’t until much later that I began to connect the dots of how colonialism has ruined so much of our world, under the guise of making it better (hello white saviourism!) that I realised that the history we had been taught was biased and a form of oppression. That pompous, arrogant and supremacist view point has ruined so much and is still upheld and celebrated today.
The reason I’m sharing that is because we are never taught the beginning of supremacy. We are never taught the true cost of war. I am interested in history but only when I know the effects it has had on our present world. I was never ever taught that.
Now? If I were in class and had the knowledge of words like decolonisation and white supremacy as an inherent system of oppression and control...I would throw the books in the bin and ask the teachers to do better. I would demand that they shared alternative view points of history and not just the supremacist viewpoint. A world history. A balanced history.
Those words empower me now. The language I have has deepened my knowledge of the systems that try to squash us down. Empower yourself with the words that name the systems of oppression of BIPOC / LGBTQ++ / disabled folks. Empower yourself so you can call it out when you witness it. Empower your children, friends and neighbours. Give them the language they need to succeed, survive and thrive!
Supremacists do not like it when you can see them for what they are, let alone call them out, so name their actions and harm. We are in an age of violence and not the physical kind; it’s the kind of violence that is propping up supremacy. You may have seen the hierarchy of supremacy pyramid (you can click here to see it if not) which, shows the foundation of the pyramid as “indifference”. Indifference can come in many forms: silence, chosen ignorance, complacency, denial, colonised minds, saviourism. And it is my wholehearted belief that the supremacy we need to fight is that foundation of indifference. Without its foundation, supremacy can’t have a stronghold. We can topple it over. And those who make up that foundation? well it might be your grandmother, your teacher, your neighbour, your aunt and uncle, the ignorant, the un-woke, in denial and the all lives matter folks; Its white feminists, people who tone police and gaslight in the name of peace, which I won’t lie makes it a harder in some respects because it’s ordinary folks but until they realise they’re part of the problem, they won’t be part of the solution or revolution that we need for equity.
Watching Zora learn how to read is one of the biggest joys as her mama. I know for some it’s hard and I realise the privilege in knowing it’s been relatively easy for her. I am so thankful for this gift that she has because I know it’ll continue to empower her. I see the sense of pride in understanding the words she sees. I will keep adding to her words and the ones that have empowered me will be passed to her.
So empower yourselves, empower others and use those words.