Just as Black Lives Matter, so do Words
By Kevin McCarthy – 8/24/2020
What comes to your mind when you hear the words “southern pines?” Do you hear the chirping of the cardinal, the call of the mourning dove? Smell the scent of pine as the wind blows through green needles? Ah, yes, southern pines: quietly majestic, calming, and fragrant. You are probably smiling right now just thinking of it.
Well, I am not smiling. When I hear the words, southern pines, I am reminded of the town next to my hometown of Aberdeen, North Carolina. Our hated arch-rival was the town of Southern Pines, North Carolina. It was where all the rich kids lived. Many of their daddies were the executive class of the rug mill that had moved south from Freehold, New Jersey. Aberdeen was mostly a tobacco town. Come each September, the warehouses would be packed with rows of tobacco leaf on pallets to be auctioned off to the various buyers from tobacco companies. Aberdeen and the surrounding rural area produced most of the mill workers when the rug mill came to town in the late 50’s. To those snooty country-club uppers of Southern Pines, us Aberdeen folk were nothing more than a town full of tobacco chewing, Jesus-believing, gun-toting Neanderthals.
I could go on for several more paragraphs about Southern Pines, but the reason I mention this is to illustrate a point: the words we use, like in the case of “southern pines,” can mean one thing to the speaker, while to the one who hears those words, an entirely different, even opposite, meaning can be understood.
That is the basic premise of the book “4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication” by Bento Leal III. Leal makes the point that the words we use and when we use them can easily miscommunicate what we are intending to say. A subtle change of verbiage and pacing can open up doors of communication that previously seemed impenetrable.
Today we see the issue of racial strife dominate the national consciousness. The death of George Floyd was the catalyst igniting a powder keg of pent-up frustrations, anger, and resentments. The ensuing narratives that were formed were fraught with examples of what happens when the inability to express thoughts clearly, runs headlong into the inability to listen carefully. It is a microcosm of what consistently derails racial harmony in America.
It has been put forth and highly promoted by the news media that there is a system of racism in America, that it is all-encompassing and has corrupted every institution of America society. Organizations, such as Black Lives Matter, state that the only sound recourse is to deconstruct the nation and form new institutions based upon a social justice model dictated by their Marxist worldview.
Most people of all races are not attracted or fooled by such extremist conclusions. They recognize that, many times, implementing such proposed solutions can easily cause a ten-fold worse outcome compared to the original problem. Think Venezuela, as a most recent example. If you have a society that is still grappling to provide equal opportunity for all, and you can only replace it with a society that provides equal misery for all, you are not moving the ball forward. Yet, the way forward remains ostensibly unclear.
When America elected its first black president in 2008, Americans of all races and on both sides of the political spectrum were hoping that it could represent a new era and a positive advancement for race relations in America. Sadly, it is clear to almost all in 2020, that little progress, if any, has been achieved and, in some respects, race relations in America may have, actually, regressed since that time.
Misunderstanding between the races is a problem in America, but the problem is aggravated by the rolling definition affixed to the word “racism.” It is a single word, a “one size fits all” word that can mean different things to different people. It is the “southern pines” problem supercharged.
Does the single word, racism, accurately describe the wide array of pitfalls to positive race relations? How could it, when it makes no distinction between those who murdered Emmett Till and those who oppose making Juneteenth a national holiday. Both are labeled with the same word: racists.
The word conveys no regard to the degree of the infraction or whether one’s infringement is an expression of racial hatred or is, instead, an expression of ignorance or insensitivity and is void of insidious intent. We have more extensive verbiage to describe killing a human being, i.e. First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, Felony Murder, Manslaughter, Justifiable Homicide, etc., than do we have words to accurately define and describe the many barriers and missteps that impede racial understanding, trust, and harmony. The cause of racial harmony is further damaged by those who then rely upon that deficiency to foment hatred and distrust while manipulating it toward a desired political outcome.
The overwhelming majority of people on either side of the racial divide are good people. If we are to bring about the desired outcome of E Pluribus Unum, we must use words that can enlighten the hearts of good people. Rather than accusing one another, we can then learn to express ourselves more clearly and listen to each other more carefully.