Fragile Language

Though Ravensworth is a more “diverse” and “inclusive” place that it might at first appear in a casual glance across the pews (that’s actually a joke, but you’ve got to read the article below to get it!), I’m sharing this because language matters. The words we use to describe, in this case, racial disparities in our society, matter. It seems on the surface, especially to we fragile white people, such a paltry concern when compared to the very real physical harm racism might perpetrate. But so often, as this article points out, language, even the well-meaning language coined to explain and contextualize institutional racism, is transformed into a code to reinforce white domination.

Let’s take the terms I used above as examples: “diversity” when applied to the members of an organization, has come simply to mean “not-white.” Especially in the workplace, it has become code for appearances — “we don’t want to LOOK racist so let’s hire some DIVERSE people.” It’s a code that implicitly devalues the actual skills, abilities, and contributions that a woman or person of color has in favor of optics. “Inclusive” is another such term — it sounds so welcoming! — but what does it mean to “welcome” someone? When you welcome someone into your home, it is certainly a good thing, but there is a clear power dynamic. You belong; they don’t. That might be fine in your house, but in church race relations you can see how it starts to look like a happy veneer spread over something pretty ugly. “You can stay here, but you don’t BELONG here.”

Now, I’m not saying that’s what everyone means when they use these terms. But we should do the work to understand what the words we use mean, and what they communicate about who we are. What is the solution? It isn’t the only answer, but let’s start by speaking (and listening) with generosity kindness, but also plainly — calling a spade a spade (a phrase that sounds racist, but isn’t, at least in origin) when it comes to describing the white domination around us. And, more importantly, by following this advice:

“Stop trying to be good people. And start trying to be real people.”

Read “The Sugarcoated Language of White Fragility” on The Huffington Post here

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