Afraid to Speak

Issues of race in America have always been difficult. They seem to have been compounded over the last 12-18 months. One of those issues is whites knowing what to say in the presence of their black comrades for fear of accidentally escalating tension. Right now in America communication and conversations are critical. The difference between what “I heard you say” versus what “you meant to say” could be the difference in a spark and a forest fire. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, preachers, and many others have found themselves at the mercy of that aimless spark. This delicate situation causes white people to be afraid to speak.

History plays a critical role but history has to have communication as a partner. Communication is key in understanding, learning, and teaching the triggers of trauma that are handed down from generation to generation that stand behind words. The quintessential example is the use of the n-word but the situation can be applied to many other words and conversations. Blacks use the N-word amongst each other but if a white person says it the reaction ranges from apathy to silent disgust to all out war. Only one word in American history bears the weight of power and privilege in one race against the downtrodden and historic inequity of another race – blacks and whites. That word, used between people of the same race, does not represent history’s spirit of racial dominance. Let me explain, two black people who have no power, no money, and no influence typically cannot exert dominance over each other. History does not give blacks an equivalent word that exerts dominance or power. As a matter of fact, any word that has been or could be created by blacks can easily be deemed laughable by someone who thinks they are superior – this is why some people can say things to each other that others can’t. Certain actions, conversations, and words should be conducted in a way that is mindful of the undertones that create feelings between races. Being mindful of how you come across is not being politically correct; it’s the right thing to do for your fellow man and the optimizer of communication.

We all understand the use of words created for things that are not whole or up to certain standards. The word "mutt" is assigned to a dog that is not 100%. A mutt is not a German shepherd nor does the mutt possess the pure bred traits for which German Shepherds are so well known. Words (and not names) used to describe humans who could be given as a wedding gift or “allowed” to sleep on the floor beside the master’s bed like a pet are intrinsically malicious. The history of assigning words for black people is important to know. There is no history of blacks indoctrinating whites to believe that they are subhuman and then deploying a descriptive to pronounce their position. The Ku Klux Klan often used the N-word when they described who they were keeping from voting and against whom they used tactics to accomplish their disgusting feat. When that word is used amongst blacks there is no detesting. No fear tactics have ever been used to scare another entire community of specifically descriptive souls. When used by blacks to each other there is not any real malicious intent. A school principal once told my grandfather of his children, “You don’t want us to call them ‘n-word’ you don’t want us to call them Negro, you don’t want us to call them colored – what should we call them?” My grandfather replied, “I gave them a name. Call them that!” There is a degree to which some things have been historically dehumanizing based on social position. The challenge in James 1:19 to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry gives us the challenge to be slow, mindful, empathetic, and careful before we speak.

History is exactly that. History. It shapes the present. Assuming that history has no influence on today is a common fallacy in American race relations. Don’t be afraid to speak. Dont be afraid to be assigned a name for speaking up for those considered not whole or up to certain standards. Speak with the understanding that the middle class or affluent black person was taught by a grandmother whose parent or grandparent was a slave. They have a history that shaped their values just like white people. Theirs is just vastly different. Hebrews 10:24 says “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”. Sometimes loving and doing good for someone is speaking to them with the understanding of the path they’ve been put on to get to where they are. These paths are generations long and shaped by obstacles that make experiences real for some and hypothetical for others. Speak with empathy that considers the validity of your brother’s path.

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