Naming is an essential task when telling a story as it allows us to examine behavior, motivations, character traits, historical significance and to make personal connections for healing and growth. It allows us to connect the dots and to point out patterns. Properly identifying persons, naming the problems and putting our finger on our reality is paramount.
However, it is not easily done as there is always someone who is waiting to tell you what’s going on or how to see it. And they have got just the right word for you. But, before you take her or him up on the offer to define the situation for you, take the time to come up with your own words.
While I appreciate the work and experience of those who have been called to pursue racial justice, there are some words that don’t need to travel from our mouths to some one else’s ears again. I would be happy to host the retirement party at my house. It is my assumption that new realities require new words and if we are change the way we are viewed, how we see and experience life, then we must change the words that we can draw from.
Now, this list is not exhaustive or personal but goal- oriented. I have nothing against the words, their creators or those who use them. You are all invited to the party. But, do not bring these words with you:
- Color- blind. It is impossible, useless and misses the goal of reconciliation all together. Don’t pluck your eyes out if you are still not able to see persons apart from race.
- Majority/ minority. When I was in college about fifteen years ago, this is one of the first words that I took issue with. The count is wrong if you consider the population of the world and besides, it feeds the myth of racial superiority, the belief that who ever has the most people wins.
- The margins. I know that persons are trying to communicate that they are with “the least of these,” seeking persons on “the margins of society” but there are people in the center who fit this same description. Jesus talked with the rich and the poor, women, men and children, priest and demoniac. No one was off limits. While I would not discourage someone from traveling to the edges of town, describing it as”ministry on the margins” seems to suggest that any other ministry is not of Christ, that others are in the wrong place and that this is the greatest place of need for all of time.
- Revolutionary. I most often see this word used as it relates to the ministry of Jesus Christ or perhaps the ministry of others in his name. While Jesus did many things that turned the world upside down, he came to fulfill old laws and quoted the Old Testament that some dismiss today (Matt. 5.17). His birth was discussed by Old Testament prophets. He said that he was coming and what he would do so frankly, I don’t understand the use of this adjective. God is revolutionary by nature as God’s ways are not ways and yet God is the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Isaiah 55.8; Hebrews 13.8).
- Racial divide. We are not divided because of our race. That’s a scapegoat. We need to name why we really don’t want to be around each other. There’s a list of words and they are not color- coded or a matter of appearance.
- Race card. This is not a game and shouldn’t be treated as one. When someone speaks of an instance of injustice based on the social coloring of skin, it is unfair and misplaced to suggest that they are attempting to win an argument or score points. What they have experienced and are giving voice to is real and should not be dismissed, diminished or denied because you or I don’t want to deal with it.
- Beloved community. This was the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision and so often, it has been the case that persons use the words to be connected to him or to be identified as a civil rights leader, an activist, a prophet. But, saying his words is not enough. I understand that they want to be associated with his dream and its fulfillment. But, in your own words, how would you define community?
- Subversive. The word is too serious for what I see. If we are to change systems, then we must create and use the words we coin. We should not attempt to use the words given to us but hand them back. Subvert the system by going beyond what is seen and claim the experience by giving careful thought to what is happening. Talk it out and then write it down.
- All color- coded words. That’s right. Beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow and even people of color should be eliminated from our vocabulary. If we intend to see each other differently, then we have to say each other differently. And race says what is socially expected of us; God says what is destined for us.
- Social justice. While it is essential, it is not enough to ensure that we have all the same privileges, that our bank accounts match, that everyone has a job that adequately provides while affirming their gifts and talents. Justice is more than social and if it does not restore relationships, then you keep the stuff and these words.