Words DO matter…

GoogleJosephineBaker

Google’s Josephine Baker doodle from June 3, 2017 [part of the slideshow they created to honour her birthday]

Culturally we still find ourselves labeling and being racist, despite how far we think we may have advanced in this area. (Sachs, 2016) explained how white liberals were more racist than they might realized and laid out ten areas of microinvalidations*. Basically, we are not validating another’s racial experience if any of these areas apply to us. A couple that resonated with myself were ‘Denial’, ‘Defensiveness’, and ‘The Pain Game’. Denial is not only putting ourselves out there as ‘not seeing colour’, but we also do not see the fact we tend to live in a privileged space if we are a member of the majority. Blum (Levinson, 2003) acknowledges there is certainly individual ignorance and unconscious acceptance of a societal norm (Levinson, 2003). Defensiveness, basically is saying, “Hey, I am not racist. I am not a part of the problem. I accept all races inclusively.” This approach builds a barrier as we then are not acknowledging the problems and what others struggle with. The Pain Game, dismisses the suffering of others as we place ours in the forefront. (Husband, 2011; Levinson, 2003) are proponents of anti-racist curriculum to help offset the entrenched stereo-types we continue to live with. Besides bringing sensitivity to our youth in becoming anti-racist it also helps the educators to reevaluate tehir own perspectives (Husband, 2011),  Lawrence Blum, (Levinson, 2003 p. 269.) is a huge proponent of changing our language to help tackle racism, by re-defining what racialism and racialized groups. But how can this be done in a bipartisan way? Who decides? Levinson asks these questions alongside acknowledging Blum has touched on an important conversation within addressing racism. While looking at language and racism it is important to acknowledge racist is not a definitely black, white paradigm but rather is inclusive of all racial groups. In his research Kevin Whitehead (Whitehead, 2013) reviewed transcripts from a radio-talk show in South Africa and found self-deprecating talk was heavily used, helping to validate both the stereo-typed image of invalidation of Blacks (in this situation) and also of Whites feeling they were superior. This was an unintentional thread throughout the conversations and another example of how our language reinforces stereo-types and racism, even towards ourselves. 

Before I researched for this blog, I felt I was not a contributor to racism, but now need to re-think this and watch my own words towards others not my own race. I realized I may practice Denial inadvertently, not recognizing I am practicing it when I say, “I don’t even see colour.” I thought that was a freeing comment but it actually is saying, I don’t recognize your struggle. I am looking at it from a ‘me’ perspective, not the ‘other’ and this is microinvalidating (Sachs, 2016). One of the key components in removing any racist word/thought from our lives is to listen, really listen (Arnott, 2002; Sachs, 2016) to what someone of a different race, mixed or otherwise, to hear what they are saying and acknowledge their stories and experiences.  Another factor that will help is to introduce anti-racism in the school system (Husband, 2011; Levinson, 2003) and be conscious of the deprecating language we use (Whitehead, 2013).   A good example of this being effective is when Terry Husband, Jr.  was re-telling a story of a pre-school teacher (Husband, 2011) treatment of ‘flesh-coloured’ bandaids in the classroom. After having all the students compare their skin colour to the colour of the bandaid, there were only a few whose skin tone matched the bandaid. Using this example as a teaching point, the teacher had the class write a letter to the company who made the bandaids. The company responded with a note of apology and sent along clear bandaids.

Within the discussion of anti-racism being taught in the school system, I am reminded of an exceptional video I saw of  Jane Elliott’s, Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes racist experiment a few years back. Here is a clip from 1992, when Jane used her experiment on the Oprah show that was quite impactful. Jane has also brought her methods to Canada and created a video called Indecent Exposure, using it to show the racism towards the Indigenous population. It is a hard hitting video that shows how internalized racism is.

As George Sachs wrestled with this subject of racism he stated, “It hurts to know that my words might have invalidated another, and that I may have contributed subtly to racism.” (Sachs, 2016). As a member of a racial majority, there is a chance we all may need to take ownership of our words and admit George’s thoughts to ourselves. Being honest with ourselves, and conscientious in these areas can help bring about awareness and go a long ways towards healing and safe places for all.


*Momentary acts that serve to invalidate the very people of color [sic] we care about. (Sachs, 2016)


Arnett, J. (2002). Speak Out, For Example. In E. C. Karpinski (Ed.), Pens of Many Colours (pp. 91-95). Canada: Thomson/Nelson.

Buzzfeed Videos. (2014-09-04). Words With Racist Origins. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j328SwxxQzk. 04 June 2017.

Husband, T. (2012). “I Don’t see color”: Challenging assumptions about discussing race with young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39(6), 365-371. doi:10.1007/s10643-011-0458-9

Levinson, M. (2003). The Language of Race. Theory & Research In Education, 1(3), 267. doi:10.1177/1477878503001003001

Sachs, G. (2016-09-25). 10 Ways White Liberals Perpetuate Racism. Huffington Post: The Blog. Retrieved 2 June. 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-sachs-psyd/10-ways-white-liberals-pe_b_8068136.html.

Whitehead K. (2013). Managing Self/Other Relations in Complaint Sequences: The Use of Self-Deprecating and Affiliative Racial Categorizations. Research On Language & Social Interaction, 46(2), 186-203. Available from: Education Source, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 4, 2017.

Diversity Delivers. (2009-02-23). Indecent Exposure. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j328SwxxQzk. 03 June 2017.

Old trees, new trees…

I was talking with my neighbour this morning about the trees that lined our st

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Photo from “Weird Twist” Blog post, World History told through Tree Rings. https://weirdtwist.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/world-history-told-through-tree-rings/

reet. One of the reasons I bought the home I’m in was because of the beautiful old trees that stood so tall, which shaded our street and homes like a canopy, and nature lived in their limbs.

But these trees were cut down a few years back and replaced by saplings…it changed the environment, it changed the look of street, it changed an ecology system. Shade plants had to be removed to put sun plants in their place. Air conditioners run longer now because there is no protection from the harsh sun. We are not shaded by the beauty and the nests are gone. As we were talking of the value these old trees had, versus the lack in new trees, I couldn’t help but parallel this concept with ageism. Especially as these words, “…we are neglecting and not valuing wisdom,  you can teach snap chat, but you can’t teach experience…” (Buckworth, 2017) still echo in my mind. I find in my workplace, the company has moved many ‘old trees’ out…removing the wisdom, life experiences, and knowledge of the tree. They are being replaced by ‘new saplings’. These saplings have a worth and value, but they do not have the breadth nor height of a decades old tree. They do no provide the same protection or

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Photo from “Travel Writers Tales” post: https://www.travelwriterstales.com/ferries.htm

nurturing. Saplings do not have the strength, the reach, the hardiness of an old tree nor provides the same value. It is impossible, this only comes with what an old tree has gone through to become a many-ringed tree.

As with all analogies, there is not the perfect breakdown and we are humans, and trees are trees, but I still think we can learn a life lesson here…to not dismiss the value of an old tree…there is much that can be gained— alongside the saplings.


Buckworth, K. (2017-01-06). How I Responded When I Was Asked To Recommend A ‘Younger’ Me. Huffington Post: The Blog. Retrieved 27 May. 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kathy-buckworth/ageism-at-work_b_13996942.html.