Speak Right Words Right Now
“To everything there is a season,” Solomon says, and this is the season for speaking the right words-- healing words. George Floyd spoke his last words, “I can’t breathe,” and was laid to rest. Now the rest of us must find and use our words in this season when the river of anti-racist rage rises and overflows into streets across the globe.
Remember when you were a child and you struggled with a big feeling and fists and feet went flying, trying to do the talking? And then your mother or your kindergarten teacher said, “Use your words.” And you learned that “Shut up” was not as nice as “Be quiet!” And that, “Stop it!” could give you immediate power and maybe relief.
Right words matter.
And they matter not only to Black lives right now, but to non-Black folks as well, to people of all hues who want to join the conversation, and especially for those who do not speak up or speak out because they think they don’t know the right words to say.
So what are the right words?
Not defensive words or words that deny wrongs—historical and current. Words such as, “there is no systemic racism.” Right away, you know that’s wrong. Facts and stats speak otherwise. Not words such as, “I’m not racist. I have a lot of Black friends.” Right away that defines the limits of your anti-racist world. Not cool bro.
Right words for this season are words that ask straight up about the hurting after seeing the knee on neck image: How are you feeling or processing right now?
Right words acknowledge wounds. I realize that the Black community endured and continues to endure racial injustice.
Right words accept responsibility for the speaker’s own anti-racist learning or unlearning. I must learn more about it or examine my white or light-skin privilege.
Right words offer reconciliation in the form of actions to take to move forward. From now on I will not make jokes about that. From now on our company commits to hiring and promoting more people of colour.
These are healing words, along with the every day simple parlance of, I’m so sorry, or I’m here for you. Speak them now. Silence is not golden in this season. Say something so we don’t give up on you. And if you say the wrong thing, hopefully someone will set you right. Gently.
And within the Black community, we need to speak with each other to help ourselves heal. We are mourning. So say it. Say it again. Say how you feel about four hundred years of deaths and discrimination. It’s trauma. Lament. Lift every voice even though we can’t sing together in this pandemic.
Poppies and daisies speak beauty in June; poinsettias shout out to us at Christmas. Now is the season to speak or write the right words.