Words DO matter…


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.


One thought on “Words DO matter…

  1. Hi Donna,

    What a well-put together post. I know I am starting with this but I am just amazed at how well put together your post is. It has so much depth to it and so much further information to explore. You did an exceptional job at making this post filled with additional sources, and also educational videos.Amazing job!

    I also think that you did a great job at emphasizing the purpose of this post ‘words do matter’ because it is true we all think we aren’t part of the problem when really we are. This is because even the things we say without thinking about them on a day-to-day basis have an impact on others. I liked how you brought up the idea of racism and being anti-racist in the classroom because this is one of the first places young individuals are exposed to these ideas. I liked the example you discussed regarding the children comparing their skin colour to the band-aid because as a future teacher, a band-aid is something I would never thought to be something racist. Overall your post was very eye opening as a future educator because these are all things to keep in mind.


    Liked by 1 person

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